Swansea v Sunderland – Big match verdict

James McClean
James McClean
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JUST 16 hours after Martin O’Neill draws breath at the conclusion of the transfer window, he is forced to switch his attention to the squad he will oversee for the next four months.

The ludicrousness of the transfer system is exposed this weekend.

Today, a manager is busy attempting to plot a system and strategy around 11 players. Tomorrow, several of them could be employed elsewhere by 3pm.

Thankfully for Sunderland, O’Neill completed the two main pieces of his jigsaw seven days ago and if today passes without any fresh arrivals at the Stadium of Light, the Black Cats boss won’t necessarily be too downhearted.

Not that it is likely to be quiet on Wearside.

With Kieran Richardson, Ahmed Elmohamady and Connor Wickham hovering over the exit door and O’Neill looking to finalise a loan deal for Danny Rose, there promises to be sufficient activity to keep Jim White and co occupied at Sky Sports News.

But the priority of the transfer window, namely attacking reinforcements, has been addressed in the £22million double signing of Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson.

The dilemma for O’Neill is whether they both start tomorrow.

Sunderland’s four big guns of Johnson, Fletcher, James McClean and Stephane Sessegnon, were unleashed against Morecambe in midweek and displayed the gusto now present when the Black Cats go forward.

But can the quartet all really start on the road, against a side who have banished fears of a second-season syndrome and revelled in their opening two top-flight outings?

By playing all four, Sunderland take a risk at the back.

Few Premier League sides play with two out-and-out wingers and a front two away from home, albeit Sessegnon occupies a deeper role than a conventional forward.

Fletcher is clearly well short of match fitness, too, and although he needed the minutes in a comfortable outing against Morecambe, the Premier League is far less forgiving.

Having landed his principle targets and established the attack of his choice though, there has to be a temptation that O’Neill will persist with his fearsome front four.

The alternative is to leave the rusty Fletcher out in favour of bolstering the midfield.

But given Johnson and McClean are both in the side to produce crosses, there seems little merit in continuing with Sessegnon as a lone striker, as on the opening day at Arsenal.

Seb Larsson is likely to continue in central midfield alongside Lee Cattermole, with few alternatives at full-back other than makeshift defenders Jack Colback and Craig Gardner.

Both have excelled whenever deployed in the back four though, and even if O’Neill lands a replacement for Richardson before the noon registration deadline, he is unlikely to thrust them straight into the starting line-up at the expense of Colback.

Elsewhere, Carlos Cuellar and Simon Mignolet are expected to return to the side for Titus Bramble and Keiren Westwood, and need to ensure Sunderland’s defence is as resilient as possible against a free-scoring Swansea side.

Michael Laudrup is attempting to add a different dimension to Swansea’s predictable approach play, but they still rely on ball retention and Sunderland must follow the successful recipe from last season of defending deeply and solidly and then striking on the counter-attack.

If Sunderland lose their discipline, then Swansea are not short of predators who can punish them with Nathan Dyer, Danny Graham and particularly Michu, revelling in the romps against QPR and West Ham.

Laudrup also has to weigh up whether to include record £5.5m signing Ki Sung-Yueng in the starting line-up after the South Korean made his bow in the Capital One Cup win over Barnsley in midweek.

But Swansea’s conclusive opening two league victories don’t tell the full tale.

In both encounters, Laudrup’s side have benefited from goalkeeping and defensive howlers.

Although the confidence of Swansea’s players will have been boosted by the results, Sunderland should not be overawed at the trek to south Wales.

Sunderland proved at the Emirates that they have the defensive strength to cope with sustained pressure.

And with a mouthwatering attack now assembled and the subsequent wave of positivity that has stemmed from that, the Black Cats have every chance of entering the international break on an upward note.

Verdict: Away win