Five burning issues for David Moyes ahead of Southampton v Sunderland EFL Cup tie

Victor Anichebe: Needs game time. Picture by FRANK REID
Victor Anichebe: Needs game time. Picture by FRANK REID
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Sunderland have a welcome break from the Premier League tomorrow night when they make the 325-mile trip to face Southampton in the EFL Cup fourth round.

The Black Cats are yet to win in the top flight, taking just two points from an available 27 in their opening nine games.

Moyes could view the EFL Cup game as the perfect chance to try a new formation

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But David Moyes’ side are doing well in the EFL Cup and are just one game away from a quarter-final tie.

They face a tough test in Southampton, though, with the Saints eighth and unbeaten in five league games.

What are the main issues facing Moyes and his under-pressure Sunderland side ahead of the trip to St Mary’s?

Team selection?

Moyes must decide whether to play his strongest available side in a bid to play their way into form, or rest key players ahead of the visit of Arsenal on Saturday.

After the start Sunderland have made in the league, clearly the priority this year is remaining in the top flight.

But the team is yet to win in the Premier League, so does Moyes play his strongest side in the hope of progressing in the competition, while also gaining some much-needed momentum for the league campaign too?

Moyes could rest Jordan Pickford and bring in Mika but given his poor performance for the Under-23s last week, that is unlikely. And Pickford wants to play every game anyway.

He could make changes in defence, with Billy Jones and Papy Djilobodji given some minutes and resting Lamine Kone, just back from a hamstring strain.

With Jan Kirchhoff, Seb Larsson and Lee Cattermole out injured, Moyes is down to the bare bones in central midfield, so does he rest some of those players that started at West Ham to ensure they are fit for Arsenal?

I suspect, the manager will view this game as one Sunderland can win and use it to kick-start the league campaign.

To rest Jermain Defoe?

The key selection issue is whether to rest Jermain Defoe. It is highly likely, given he is yet to play in the EFL Cup.

The responsibility of leading the line has fallen on the shoulders of Joel Asoro in the second and third round ties against Shrewsbury and QPR, with help from Duncan Watmore.

One player in desperate need of a run-out, though, is summer signing Victor Anichebe. Moyes opting against giving him a reserve game this past week.

The first team could certainly do with him firing on all cylinders but he needs minutes on the pitch.

Tomorrow’s trip to Southampton is the perfect opportunity to start Anichebe, who missed pre-season, and look to build his match sharpness.

Switch formation?

Moyes has spoken openly about the possibility of switching the formation that his Sunderland side play.

Against West Ham, with Kone back in central defence, Sunderland played a 4-2-3-1 formation but a move to 3-5-2 has not been ruled out by the Black Cats boss.

He could view the EFL Cup game as the perfect chance to try a new formation ahead of a crucial league game against title-hopefuls Arsenal.

The system worked well second half against West Bromwich Albion last time out at the Stadium of Light, and it suits the games of Patrick van Aanholt and Javier Manquillo.

Three centre-backs would also help shore up a leaky defence, while extra resources alongside Defoe would help prevent him from being so isolated. Food for thought.

Can’t afford to let the goals dry up:

This has become a real issue in recent weeks, highlighted by the failure to land another proven goalscorer in the summer.

Anichebe, when fit, is a real handful and will cause defences problems but he is far from prolific.

Sunderland rely too much on Defoe, the 34-year-old is again top scorer with four goals.

But he hasn’t scored in three games and the team has failed to hit the back of the net in the last two.

After a difficult opening 30 minutes against West Ham, Sunderland fought their way back into the game and created chances.

Wahbi Khazri should have scored, while Defoe had a couple of chances. With the team unable to keep a clean sheet, they can’t afford to let the goals dry up.

Central midfield woe:

Sunderland’s injury list has eased with the return of Kone and van Aanholt but they remain without key central midfielders.

Kirchhoff and Cattermole, two key players behind last season’s survival, are a massive miss in the Sunderland engine room.

Against Stoke City, Sunderland’s midfield looked lightweight while against West Ham, they struggled to contain the Hammers threat.

Didier Ndong has seen a dip in form the past two games, while Paddy McNair, Jack Rodwell and Steven Pienaar lack the steel of a Cattermole.

Kirchhoff’s calmness on the ball and passing ability is a big miss too.

Games are often won and lost in the middle and Sunderland need reinforcements quickly.

On the bright side, Sunderland were within five minutes of a win at Southampton earlier in the season, so there is reason for optimism ahead of tomorrow night.