Even at this tender stage of the season, Sunderland face a mammoth encounter against West Ham tomorrow prior to the two-week international break.
With Dick Advocaat’s basement boys gradually becoming cast adrift of the pack above the relegation zone, Sunderland are at desperation point for a first Premier League win of the campaign.
Here’s three key areas for the Black Cats if they are going to break their duck:
1. Does Advocaat have to take a chance on replacing Patrick van Aanholt?
The ex-Chelsea defender has been error-prone throughout the opening stages of the season, yet as the only specialist left-back in the squad, it gives Advocaat a major headache.
Both Billy Jones and DeAndre Yedlin are more comfortable at right-back than the opposite side of the defence, with the latter only making fleeting appearances there during his senior career.
It’s a dilemma for Advocaat, who doesn’t want to make his side unbalanced, yet realises that van Aanholt has been culpable too often this season.
But with van Aanholt’s wayward positioning and mistakes continuing at Manchester United last weekend, perhaps the Sunderland boss now has little choice than to gamble on Yedlin.
2. Can Sunderland keep Dimitri Payet under wraps?
West Ham’s £11million summer signing had a reputation for inconsistency at former club Marseille, yet he has instantly blown hot since arriving in the Premier League.
Payet’s knack of finding those pockets of space in front of the back four has seen him emerge as the Hammers’ chief creator and Lee Cattermole has a pivotal job in keeping the French international under wraps.
Cattermole was more like his old self at Manchester United last weekend and does give Sunderland’s leaky defence some much-needed protection.
But the Teessider will need all his powers of discipline and concentration to thwart the principal dangerman in Slaven Bilic’s vibrant side.
3. Do Sunderland have a striker who can score?
Attention has rightly centred on Sunderland’s defensive failings as the main reason behind the club propping up the Premier League table.
But Sunderland have drawn a blank in each of their last three Premier League outings, despite creating clear-cut opportunities.
Advocaat has been fretting this week over whether to change his system and use Fabio Borini and/or Jermain Defoe in a front two, rather than as a lone striker.
Yet whether it’s one, both of them, or even in tandem with Steven Fletcher, Sunderland need their frontmen to get on the scoresheet.