At the forefront of Sam Allardyce’s mind this week, as he reflects on defeat at Chelsea, will be his midfield woes.
Without Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson through injury, Sunderland look weak and are currently there for the taking.
On-loan Yann M’Vila has impressed and will collect the Player of the Year trophy come May.
But the other midfielders standing in for Cattermole and Larsson are letting Allardyce and themselves down.
Ola Toivonen is a case in point, the Swede on a season-long loan from Rennes.
Chelsea impressed at Stamford Bridge, one of the few times this season they have. But they were allowed to dictate play, given far too much time and space to do what they liked.
They quickly raced into a 2-0 lead, Sebastian Coates at fault for allowing Branislav Ivanovic the opportunity to get the better of him five minutes in.
Eight minutes later it was two. Pedro taking advantage of another Coates error to fire Chelsea into an unassailable 2-0 lead.
The goals were poor from a defensive view.
But the pressure was mounting because Chelsea were being allowed to dictate play in the middle of the park.
The Sunderland midfield was non-existent. No bite.
Wave after wave of attack came through the heart of the Black Cats’ spine, making it a gruelling afternoon for the back-line.
Oscar excelled, Pedro looked a threat and Willian too as Chelsea looked to life post-Jose Mourinho.
Toivonen was anonymous.
He isn’t made for a scrap, that isn’t his game. Dick Advocaat brought him in this summer to play in the Number 10 role.
But he didn’t impress there either.
On loan for the season with a view to a permanent deal, the chances of that happening are remote.
The Swedish international – set to represent his country in France next summer at Euro 2016 – has done nowhere near enough to justify it.
He is lucky to be in the team at the moment, truth be told.
Toivonen did well at Arsenal away and hopes were that he’d turned a corner as he battled his way back to full fitness. But poor showings against Watford and now Chelsea have followed.
He wasn’t the only one to have an off-day, far from it. But he hasn’t impressed since Advocaat brought him in.
More is needed from him, especially at Manchester City, where he is set to play again given Jack Rodwell’s suspension following his fifth booking.
Rodwell too was poor at the Bridge. Not as bad as Toivonen – who was hooked at half-time for Fabio Borini – but poor nonetheless.
The ex-Everton and Man City midfielder allowed the game to pass him by first half, with Sunderland unable to get a foothold in the game.
And Chelsea reaped the rewards.
Sunderland’s man of the match M’Vila was the only one to come out with any credit from those that started on a warm day in London.
Borini impressed from the bench, prodding his first goal of the season in from close range against his former side. A goal will do him wonders.
Or at least it should. His mood, performances and demeanour have been downcast in recent weeks.
Scoring – and performing – against his former club could be the catalyst to turn his season on an upward curve.
Time will tell on that score.
For Toivonen though, Sunderland need him to come to the fore in the Boxing Day test and at home to Liverpool four days later. Otherwise, it could be curtains for his Sunderland career before 2015 is out.