Five burning issues facing David Moyes ahead of Sunderland v Middlesbrough
All eyes will be on David Moyes this weekend as he takes charge of his first Sunderland game at the Stadium of Light.
Premier League newcomers Middlesbrough are making the short journey up the A19, fresh from their 1-1 draw with Stoke City, while Sunderland head into the Wear-Tees derby on the back of a spirited 2-1 defeat to Manchester City.
Moyes has been busy on the training pitches at the Academy of Light this week, while glued to his phone in the hope of another transfer breakthrough.
But what are the burning issues facing the new Cats boss ahead of the Sunday lunchtime visit of Boro?
1) Stick or twist with team selection?
Moyes put his faith in the club’s younger players at the Etihad Stadium – and they almost repaid him with a fine point.
Sub Paddy McNair’s luckless, late own goal dented those hopes, but there was plenty to be positive about. Lynden Gooch, in particular, was a real shining light.
Positive, pacy, creative; the 20-year-old was a real thorn in the side of Bacary Sagna in the first half. He is set to keep his place in the side – there is no reason to drop him.
But should Moyes stick or twist with the rest of the team?
Jeremain Lens, Wahbi Khazri and Adnan Januzaj all started on the bench, but the Manchester United loanee is the only one of that trio likely to start against Boro.
2) Keep John O’Shea in the starting line-up?
David Moyes said it himself.
“I’d like to say it’s a one-off because for me to take the club forward it can’t be with John O’Shea as a central midfield player.”
Moyes had no other option other than to start O’Shea alongside Jack Rodwell in a patched-up central midfield against City.
And the Sunderland skipper looks set to keep his place, unless there is a transfer breakthrough in the next 48-hours.
Sunderland have few central midfield options.
Lee Cattermole is out with a hernia, while Jan Kirchhoff missed the City game after not recovering fully from a hamstring strain picked up in France.
Newcomer McNair can play in the holding midfield role, but it would mean playing another inexperienced player in what is likely to be a hotly contested derby match.
3) Offer Steven Pienaar a contract?
The former Everton midfielder has been training with the club at the Academy of Light for three weeks now.
Moyes thought about starting him for the Under-23s against Chelsea last Sunday, but he opted against it, with Pienaar enjoying another week of training with the rest of the squad instead.
The Orlando Pirates target has a wealth of experience in the Premier League and, with Sunderland short on midfield options, the 34-year-old would be an option.
There wouldn’t be much harm in offering him a short-term deal for six or 12 months.
Either way, he wouldn’t start against Boro though.
4) Unleash Adnan Januzaj from the start against Middlesbrough?
The Manchester United loanee played a key role in Jermain Defoe’s equaliser against Manchester City.
His smart footwork created enough space to lay the ball off to Fabio Borini, who then squared to Jack Rodwell before slipping in Defoe.
A well-worked team goal, with Sunderland on course for a point until the final stages of the game.
Moyes went with the younger players against City because he wanted the workrate and energy they provided.
At home, does Moyes stick with a similar game plan or throw Januzaj in from the start?
The Belgian international had only met his new team-mates the day before the City game. Seven days on, he has been training all week.
Gooch looks set to keep his place, but Januzaj could come in for Duncan Watmore, with Sunderland needing to be more offensive from the off against Boro.
5) Does Jeremain Lens have a future under Moyes?
The winger started the pre-season games against Dijon, Montpellier and Borussia Dortmund, but he was dropped to the bench for the opening game against Manchester City.
Lens is wanted by former Sunderland boss Dick Advocaat at new club Fenerbahce, with a season-long loan a possibility.
Sunderland spent an initial £8million on the winger, but he struggled to hold down a regular place under Sam Allardyce, with question marks over his attitude and workrate.
Undoubtedly talented but one of the few players that Sunderland could command a reasonable fee for, to reinvest back in the squad.
He looks set to be named among the subs again at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.