Analysis - Sunderland’s starting XI at Leicester is almost decided already

Younes Kaboul

Younes Kaboul

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There has been a conscious effort from Sunderland to be discreet over their remaining activity in this transfer window, rather than letting their targets leak out.

Predictably, that prompts some supporters to have kittens by wrongly concluding nothing is being done, yet when the pit of money is not bottomless, it is probably prudent to keep the amount of cash in the transfer kitty largely under wraps.

There’s nine, probably 10, of the side from the Keepmoat Stadium who will remain in place on the opening day

Sunderland ARE in the market for further recruits, make no mistake, particularly if Connor Wickham completes his £9million move to Crystal Palace.

But even if - and at the moment there is not thought to be anything imminent - Sunderland add to Dick Advocaat’s options before the Premier League gets underway in just eight days time, will any new boys be pitched straight into the fray at Leicester City?

Regardless of whether the fresh faces are up to scratch physically, they will have minimal - if any - chance to get up to speed with the tactical nuances of Advocaat’s system.

No, you have to conclude that Sunderland’s side at the King Power Stadium will come from those already on the books.

How different will that line-up look though from the starting XI for Sunderland’s penultimate pre-season friendly at Doncaster on Wednesday night?

Not a lot.

There’s nine, probably 10, of the side from the Keepmoat Stadium who will remain in place on the opening day.

Costel Pantilimon has recovered from the knee injury which sidetracked him at the start of the pre-season campaign and the Romanian will remain Sunderland’s number one this year, even if the identity of his main back-up will not be resolved until the end of the window.

By virtue of being Sunderland’s only specialist left-back, Patrick van Aanholt is another of the names already inked onto the team sheet and the Dutchman should be better defensively this season after his maiden campaign of regular Premier League football.

After starting the last two friendlies, there has to be a suspicion that Billy Jones will remain at right-back too, particularly as new boy Adam Matthews has looked defensively vulnerable.

Jones played a big part in Sunderland’s survival under Advocaat at the end of last season and it didn’t go unnoticed by the head coach, albeit the ex-West Brom man must rid himself of his persistent hamstring troubles.

Later on in the campaign, Advocaat may find himself having to make a decision at centre-half after the capture of Younes Kaboul.

But in the immediate term, the partnership of John O’Shea and Sebastian Coates - which was reunited at Doncaster after thriving at the conclusion of last season - is the odds-on favourite to start at Leicester.

For all Advocaat wants to incorporate the power of Kaboul into the heart of his defence, the ex-Spurs man has not started a competitive game since January and has only played 45 minutes of football in pre-season.

The 29-year-old may need a League Cup game or two before he is ready to get back into regular Premier League football.

For those final six places in the side, Lee Cattermole, Adam Johnson, Jeremain Lens and probably Jermain Defoe can all be considered as starters at Leicester.

And then it’s a case of two from three of Jack Rodwell, Seb Larsson and Steven Fletcher, depending on how Advocaat lines his troops up.

At Doncaster, Advocaat opted for a 4-2-3-1 with Rodwell and Cattermole sitting, while Lens, Johnson and Defoe occupied the spaces behind Fletcher.

That became far more effective when Defoe moved centrally into the hole, with Lens and Johnson providing the ammunition out wide. It’s pointless to use the ex-Spurs striker as a makeshift winger again this season.

Advocaat could opt to persist with that at Leicester, or go to a more defensive mindset with Larsson coming in for Fletcher.

Sunderland are familiar with that set-up – it would be the same as the one favoured by Gus Poyet last season, with a midfield trio of Rodwell, Larsson and Cattermole, and two wingers either side of the central striker.

But is Advocaat more adventurous than that?

After all, Sunderland ended up in yet another relegation scrap last season because they didn’t score enough goals and subsequently drew too many games.

Of course, pre-season is the time to tinker and experiment with slight tweaks to the set-up.

Yet even if there are further signings to come, Advocaat clearly has his starting line-up for Leicester more or less in place in his mind.

Tomorrow’s final friendly in Germany should simply be a case of cementing the method behind how those players are organised.