Three key areas for Sunderland in Crystal Palace six-pointer – including second striker conundrum

Fabio Borini had an off-night against Spurs, but Sunderland will surely rely on his workrate up front tomorrow, alongside Jermain Defoe
Fabio Borini had an off-night against Spurs, but Sunderland will surely rely on his workrate up front tomorrow, alongside Jermain Defoe
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It is Sunderland’s biggest game of the season so far, a chance to cut the gap on Crystal Palace.

With the Black Cats other relegation rivals facing daunting fixtures, it is an opportunity the Black Cats simply cannot afford to miss.

Here are three key areas that could settle the contest...

Set-pieces

Sunderland have in recent weeks experimented with various attackign set-piece routines, but the delivery and execution have never looked like producing a goal.

What they seem to be avoiding is simply putting aerial balls into the box. That is not the worst idea, Sunderland have not got much threat in the air, their strikers are dimunitive and their centre-halves and midfielders have a poor goalscoring record.

Yet, with their all-round creative threat lacking, set-pieces are a key way they can attempt to win tight games.

The onus is on Seb Larsson to reproduce the level of delivery we have become accustomed to in recent seasons, and for his fellow Black Cats to switch on.

Being caught offside at an attacking dead-ball, as happened against Tottenham in midweek, is unforgivable.

Needless to say, too, that standing up to the threat from a Big Sam side at the other end will be crucial. Both of the Eagles’ goals at Bournemouth came from lofted balls into the box.

Coping with van Aanholt

The Dutchman, as Sunderland fans know so well, represents both a threat and an opportunity.

He will maraud forward and attack the spaces in between the wing-back and centre-halves, an area which he is deadly if not properly tracked.

At the other end, though, he will leave spaces. Can Ndong, Jones and Borini show enough ambition and execution to exploit them?

The second striker conundrum

Neither Adnan Januzaj nor Fabio Borini have completely seized on their chance to play alongside Jermain Defoe in the New Year.

Januzaj offers greater quality and incision with the ball at his feet, but Borini undoubtedly brings a greater work ethic.

In a physical away game, that is likely to get the Italian the nod, so can he keep his composure if the crucial chance falls his way? A confident Fabio would be a big boost.