What are the key issues facing Sunderland boss David Moyes in the international break?
Sunderland have started this season in exactly the same fashion as the last, with the Black Cats picking up just one point from their opening three Premier League matches.
But what are the main issues facing David Moyes during the two-week international break in order to avoid a repeat of another season-long battle against the drop?
1) Transfers, transfers, transfers:
Sunderland’s phone bill will be sky high this week – or at least it should be.
The summer transfer window closes in just over 24-hours time – and Sunderland are still at least four quality players short.
Ahead of 11pm on Wednesday, manager David Moyes and chief executive Martin Bain will be glued to their phones as they look to bring in another goalkeeper, defensive cover, at least one central midfielder and a striker.
And that’s before any possible last minute departures are thrown into the mix, with Everton-target Lamine Kone’s future still up in the air.
Moyes is closing in on Vicente Iborra, while the Scot has refused to rule out the possibility of Joe Hart arriving on loan. That would tick two boxes but a striker is key.
Sunderland must come up trumps in the transfer market or face the inevitable scrap against relegation to the Championship.
2) Chance to rest tired limbs:
Sunderland finally got off the mark with a good point away at Southampton, with Moyes’ side unlucky not to come away with all three ahead of the international break.
And the break from league action has come at just the right time.
Sunderland have looked jaded late on in games, with Moyes having little option but play the same players and throw inexperienced youngsters straight into three games in the space of six days.
Steven Pienaar, who was a doubt for Southampton, has barely played the past two years but has been thrown in too.
A break will do everyone good. The growing injury list remains a major concern, though.
The squad has been decimated by injuries with Lee Cattermole (hernia), Jan Kirchhoff (hamstring), Seb Larsson (knee), Fabio Borini (groin) and Vito Mannone (elbow) among those out.
Out of that list, only Kirchhoff looks to have any chance of being involved when the Premier League returns with the home game against Everton on September 12.
3) Opportunity for Moyes to hone his tactics.
Moyes has effectively been managing Sunderland with one arm forced behind his back in his opening few weeks in charge.
A threadbare squad, mounting injury concerns and transfer business set to go down to the wire has left Moyes with limited options.
“I’d like to tinker with it but I just don’t think I’ve really got the players at the moment to make too many changes,” said Moyes.
He has tweaked the system and shape of the side in the games against Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Southampton.
But the break gives Moyes the chance to hone his system and style of play at the Academy of Light with those players not on international duty or in the physio room.
4) Wrap Jermain Defoe in cotton wool:
Defoe was naturally bitterly disappointed not to have been included in Sam Allardyce’s first England squad.
After two goals in three Premier League starts, he has carried his season-saving form from last season into this. His goal against the Saints meant he has scored in six consecutive away games.
Overall, he has scored 10 goals in his last 10 appearances away from Wearside in the Premier League.
Sunderland’s survival hopes again rest on his shoulders. But he needs help. And he needs to be looked after too. Defoe missed the end of pre-season with a thigh strain.
His exclusion from the England squad was bad news for the 33-year-old but good news for Sunderland.
5) Make the most of home advantage:
What Sunderland can’t afford to do this season, is wait until the end of October to pick up their first win.
When you look back over last season, it is incredible to think that any side could go without a win for almost the duration of the first three months of the season and still stay up.
Yet, that’s exactly what they did – the 3-0 win over Newcastle United on October 25 was the first league win. They can’t risk a run like that again.
After this international break, Sunderland have a run of four league games – three of which are at home.
They face Everton (H), Tottenham Hotspur (A), and then back-to-back home games against Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion.
A key period for Moyes and his new-look Sunderland side.