Sunderland analysis: Manager David Moyes is going to have to be a master coach, inspired motivator and transfer magician
If David Moyes thought managing Manchester United was the biggest challenge of his career, he will soon reappraise that evaluation.
This is his greatest test and, should he pass it, it will surely be his finest hour.
The Scot is going to have to be a master coach, inspired motivator and transfer magician all rolled into one if he is to keep Sunderland in the Premier League.
Saturday’s woeful 4-1 defeat at Burnley left the Black Cats deep in the drop zone.
Injuries continue to plague the side, Lamine Kone was lost midway through the first half and, after that, the defence was lost.
The departure of Victor Anichebe, also with a hamstring injury, not only robbed the team of their powerhouse forward, it drained that vital commodity from the side, confidence.
Not that Big Vic’s absence cold in any way be linked to some Sunday League stuff.
Sunderland’s soft centre was exposed three times by Andre Gray on 31, 51 and 53 minutes. The opener was a dreadful goal to concede, John O’Shea and Papy Djilobodji challenging each other more effectively than they did Ashley Barnes.
O’Shea only succeeded in helping on Scott Arfield’s up-and-under into the path of the unmarked Gray, who strode forward and beat Vito Mannone from 18 yards, the keeper failing to keep out a shot which was pretty much straight at him.
Sunderland could not deal with a hopeful ball forward for the second goal either.
Gray shook off a weak attempt from Djilobodji before rounding an equally lame attempt from Mannone, who had rushed to the edge of the box to tap into the empty net.
His third goal also had a comedy element. Steven Pienaar stood on he ball as he led an away counter-attack, alowing Burnley to hit their frontmen again, Barnes chesting the ball superbly before playing in Gray, who finished from seven yards.
The Clarets were not finished and when Seb Larsson, ludicrously, pushed over Arfield in the box in the 67th minute, Barnes beat Mannone from the spot.
Fortunately, the scoreline got no worse and Sunderland were able to pull one back in the 71st minute.
Adnan Januzaj took part in a football version of the 110 metres hurdles, skipping over three challenges to find Jermain Defoe, who controlled the ball beautifully before beating Tom Heaton from five yards.
Moyes, whose side now face Liverpool today labelled the display as “dire” and that’s being kind.
Now it’s over to him and here are three areas the boss must tackle and succeed in.
Moyes has already pulled a rabbit out of the hat this season by taking Anichebe off the dole queue and making him the signing of the season.
Money is scarce, so, while the boss may not be expected to get players for free, he does not have millions.
Sunderland were actually in a worse situation 12 months ago, one place and two points below where they are now and eight points from safety.
But this was the month when Sam Allardyce pulled off three brilliant transfers – Wahbi Khazri, Jan Kirchhoff and Kone, the latter two arriving for less than £6million.
All three made a tremendous difference and what work Moyes does in the window could shape the season and his career.One thing is certain, signings are a must for he has no-one in his squad he can promote.
Sunderland are down to the bare bones, squad-wise.
Anichebe and Kone have joined an injury list longer than the A19, and Billy Jones is suspended for today, though at least Didier Ndong and Khazri are available ahead of their trip to the Africa Cup of Nations.
It means the Black Cats will today be facing title contenders Liverpool with a much-depleted side and the Stadium of Light meeting looks anything but a fair contest.
Moyes must raise his troops and have them firing on all cylinders against the Reds and it will be hard 48 hours after a morale-sapping mauling at Burnley.
But should he do that, surely a packed ground will get behind the team.
Moyes must remind Djilobodji how well he had been playing pre-Burnley and he must also get an arm around the shoulder of Mannone, who was culpable for the opening two Clarets goals.
The team effectively picks itself, it’s just a case of who goes where. If Jason Denayer passes a fitness test, Moyes could operate him in a back three alongside O’Shea and Djilobodji, with Donald Love and Patrick van Aanholt as wingbacks.
He must make Sunderland hard to beat, just as they were when they took on Liverpool last time at Anfield in November.
The Black Cats must ensure they stay in the game for as long as possible and hope their forward players can take advantage of chances that come their way.
Defoe and Fabio Borini have scored super goals in the last two games, but both have come with the match having already been lost.
The key now is to make sure the goals actually count for something.