Sunderland-Leicester: Cats must make use of Champions League curse and two other key areas
Sunderland to beat the champions of England?
You better believe it and, come to think of it, the Black Cats players must believe it as well.
Just 19 Premier matches ago, Leicester City arrived at the Stadium of Light as leaders and typically kept a clean sheet with goal machine Jamie Vardy scoring twice in the 2-0 win.
How times have changed and the Foxes arrive at the Stadium of Light without a clean sheet on their travels all season with Vardy not having found the net since September 10.
Here are three key areas for the Black Cats against the champions.
Take advantage of the Champions League ‘curse’:
How can you be cursed when you are through to the last 16 as group winners with a game to spare? But it’s true.
Leicester have failed to win any of the five matches they have played immediately before a Champions League fixture.
They have lost four times and drawn one of their Premier games before going into a European night.
Leicester are away at Porto this Wednesday and while the Foxes already have the group in the bag, surely the stat is not a coincidence.
The players clearly are concentrating on Europe, even if they may not admit it.
Sunderland must get at them and put them on the back foot, the City defence has looked vulnerable, especially on the road, remarkable given they have conceded only one goal in five Euro games.
The Foxes have conceded 16 away goals – no-one has leaked more – with 12 coming in the first half so a positive home start would prove canny.
While Leicester do not have to worry about the Champions League until the spring, the pattern has been set and the Black Cats must take advantage.
Keep it tight at the back ... and clean:
Sunderland did just that last week at Liverpool, where they held out until 15 minutes from time, with the second goal only arriving in injury time.
The Black Cats do not need to be as defensively-minded as they were at Anfield but, having said that, they have to be switched on.
While Jamie Vardy has not scored in the Premier League since the light nights, he has pace to burn and the home side can’t allow space for the striker to utilise.
They are going to have to be cute too. It would not be unfair to say Vardy is prone to going to ground in the box at the slightest breath of wind – so they cannot be in any way reckless.
Vardy won the penalty Riyad Mahrez converted at Watford, while the two City goals last Saturday against Middlesbrough were both via the spot, Mahrez and Islam Slimani on target, with both awards the result of numpty defending by Boro.
Sunderland, take note.
Get the ball to Duncan Watmore:
Victor Anichebe has dominated all the talk about how Sunderland are now a different team.
But here’s a word or two singing the praises of Dunc.
Yes, big Vic has helped transform the Black Cats, which means Watmore has gone under the radar somewhat.
But he has been a right nuisance during the last three games with his endless energy and running.
At Bournemouth, he played the cross of the match, had a goal disallowed and put Anichebe in for the match winning-penalty.
Against Hull, he was cleaned out by keeper David Marshall, but the ref did not give a penalty, but he had an assist for Jermain Defoe’s 150th Premier League goal and was involved in the buildup to Anichebe’s opener.
Last week at Anfield, he fluffed the best away chance of the match, but, at least he was in the right position.
He is a man in form and Sunderland must make use of that.