Five burning issues facing David Moyes ahead of Manchester City v Sunderland
With the pre-season programme complete, the countdown to the new Premier League campaign is well and truly underway.
David Moyes has a week with his Sunderland squad on the training pitches at the Academy of Light ahead of the trip to Manchester City on Saturday teatime. But what are the burning issues facing Moyes ahead of the game at the Etihad Stadium?
1) Build on momentum of Papy Djilobodji signing.
Sunderland ended their pre-season preparations with a 1-1 draw against Borussia Dortmund before springing a transfer surprise two hours after the game in Austria.
Ex-Chelsea centre-back Papy Djilobodji was unveiled as the club’s first summer signing, joining for £8million.
A collective sigh of relief could be heard over Wearside as Sunderland finally dusted off the old chequebook.
Djilobodji is untested in the Premier League, but he will provide extra competition at the back and in the holding midfield role.
Sunderland now need to build on the momentum with further signings this week ahead of the Manchester City match.
Completing the deal for Yann M’Vila – which has dragged on all summer – is the next piece of key business.
2) Could Joel Asoro be the surprise package against Man City?
Jermain Defoe is still working his way back to full fitness after a thigh strain picked up during the tour of France. Last season’s top scorer hasn’t played since the friendly win over Rotherham United on July 23 as a result, leaving Sunderland short on attacking options.
Fabio Borini – who has scored three times in pre-season – is likely to start up front, but Moyes must be seriously considering using youngster Asoro as a secret weapon from the bench, should Defoe not make the squad.
The 17-year-old has pace to burn, can finish and, despite his small frame, is not afraid to battle with big centre-backs.
Asoro has caught the eye this pre-season and could be the latest teenager to be handed his debut by Moyes. Remember Wayne Rooney?
3) Is it worth risking injuries to key players against Man City?
Everyone wants to start the season well, but Sunderland have been handed one of the toughest challenges available, facing title-hopefuls Manchester City, who have their first competitive match under new boss Pep Guardiola.
One thing Sunderland will be is organised and hard to break down and don’t expect too much in the way of flowing football from the Black Cats early on.
Moyes is here to win points and the best way Sunderland can hope to achieve that against City is to shut up shop and not take the game to them.
One thing he must consider, though, is whether to rush back the likes of Defoe and Jan Kirchhoff (hamstring) from injury.
Both are key players but they haven’t had much football this pre-season.
Is it best to give them an extra week’s training before bringing them back into the side?
4) Who to play at right-back?
Billy Jones is winning his battle against a hip injury to be fit for the start of the season.
The former West Brom man is the club’s only senior right-back, with Moyes targeting that area of the pitch to strengthen this summer.
The rest of the defence picks itself, with Vito Mannone in goal, Patrick van Aanholt at left back and Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone likely to start, despite the arrival of Papy Djilobodji.
Who should start at right-back though? Jones? Or should Jack Rodwell be given another chance, having started there against Borussia Dortmund?
John O’Shea, who was covering for Kirchhoff against Dortmund, and Josh Robson are other options – the youngster impressing in the second half against the Germans.
5) Stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation?
Sunderland lined up in their familiar formation against Dortmund, with O’Shea (in place of Kirchhoff) and Lee Cattermole sitting deep, with Wahbi Khazri, Jeremain Lens and Duncan Watmore supporting Fabio Borini.
With options limited, Moyes looks set to play that formation on the opening day of the Premier League season.
Moyes is unlikely to go with two up front, instead looking to pack the midfield in order to maintain some control over a City side with a point to prove after last season’s disappointing league campaign.
Lens and Khazri will have to be disciplined, though, and track back to help the full-backs to ensure they are not overrun, with Sunderland’s defence set for a very busy afternoon as the new season gets underway.