Sunderland-Watford: Three key areas for must-win Premier League clash

Steven Pienaar nicks the ball from Jamie Vardy. Picture by FRANK REID
Steven Pienaar nicks the ball from Jamie Vardy. Picture by FRANK REID
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If the Premier League did banana skins, they would look like Watford.

Very apt given their garish yellow jerseys. Forgive the Carlsberg rip off in the intro. There are other cold lagers available. Sunderland will hope three points are available.

Anyone thinking the Hornets might be a home banker for the Black Cats, think again

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But anyone thinking the Hornets are a home banker for the Black Cats, think again. Mid-table floaters they might be who win and lose in equal measures but they are fit and athletic with a couple of away wins already under their belts.

Here are three key areas for Sunderland to get right at the Stadium of Light.

Set-pieces:

Sunderland have not made a habit of scoring from dead-ball situations, unless you count Jermain Defoe’s unerring accuracy from the penalty spot.

The Black Cats have managed one goal from set plays and that was a Robert Huth OG when he diverted a Jan Kirchhoff header from Seb Larsson’s corner in the win over Leicester.

But, the Hornets have a habit of leaking goals from corners this season, seven, so if there is an area to exploit, it is here.

If Kirchhoff plays, David Moyes is not lacking in presence in the box.

But quality is required. Sunderland had few opportunities to shine against Chelsea in midweek and when they tried, the delivery was terrible.

Corners went down the keeper’s throat and one good free-kick position was fouled up horrifically when, instead of getting it into the box, they tried a clever move. Too clever as they lost the ball.

Sunderland have a couple of exponents of the dead-ball, Larsson and Wahbi Khazri.

Neither are automatic starters but given this is a match the side must win, Moyes may be advised to select one, or both.

Opportunities may be scarce so putting that one perfect ball in could be vital.

Patience:

Sunderland’s players, and fans, may have to exercise a fair bit of this commodity.

Given the energy expanded chasing and harrying Chelsea in midweek, this could turn into a close and perhaps grim battle.

The Black Cats must pace themselves over the 90 minutes, just one goal could be the difference here.

Defensively they showed their mettle against the Blues and they must repeat it against Walter Mazzarri’s side. They must keep Troy Deeney and co quiet.

There is no out-and-out Watford dangerman, the Hornets have had 11 different goalscorers in the Premier League, a joint-high alongside Liverpool.

So they must be on their guard throughout and look to give Jordan Pickford his second clean sheet.

If they pull that off, when the chance comes at the other end, whether that’s the 17th or 87th minute, they must take it.Sunderland’s fans have been incredible in their support this season and never will the 12th-man cliche be more pertinent.

The Cats must win, however it’s achieved –they can’t afford to go into Christmas adrift.

Midfield:

Sunderland’s midfield have found themselves on the back foot over the last 135 minutes.

They lost their way in the second half at Swansea and Wednesday night’s clash against Premier League leaders Chelsea was a tough assignment, chasing a talented and athletic opposition.

The Cats need to be on the front foot against Watford, just as they were on the last Saturday outing, against Leicester. That day, the midfield was positively vibrant, Steven Pienaar was at the heart of some of the side’s best play of the season.

He and Jason Denayer were lost at half-time but their replacements made their mark after the break.

Hopefully Pienaar will be fit to resume and on the subject of resumptions, Didier Ndong is available after serving his one-game ban.After having Wednesday off, the club’s record signing can add that dose of energy Sunderland need.

The team may pick itself, again, if injuries continue to deplete, but if the likes of Pienaar and Victor Anichebe are fit to play, at least it will give Moyes some options.

There could be a dilemma or two for Moyes - Borini to start or go on the bench, the same with Adnan Januzaj.

Both remain decidedly rusty, though each could be a match-winner, who will the gaffer pick?

Whoever he plumps for, the midfield will be crucial to Sunderland’s prospects.

They put the side on the front foot against Leicester and they have to do it again.