Five selection dilemmas facing Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce for Crystal Palace

Fabio Borini.
Fabio Borini.
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Sunderland have staggeringly failed to name an unchanged starting XI in the Premier League since May 2014.

Sam Allardyce has been unable to change that pattern due to injuries and suspensions, although he is eager for Sunderland to boast a more settled side.

But with the Premier League’s second bottom side desperate for points, what changes will Allardyce make for Monday night’s clash at Crystal Palace?

Here’s five selection dilemmas facing the Sunderland boss.

1. Is there a place for big money signings Fabio Borini and Jeremain Lens?

Sunderland had around £40million of investment on the bench for their outing against Southampton 10 days ago, with no place in the starting XI for either Borini or Lens.

Borini was admittedly returning from an ankle injury and came on at half-time, but Lens has been an unused substitute for each of the last two games, with Duncan Watmore preferred against the Saints.

Sunderland splashed out more than £20m during the summer on the two widemen, in the hope that they would become match-winners for the Black Cats.

Given the club’s current plight, does Allardyce need as many of those as possible?

2. How will Sunderland line up in the middle of the park?

Allardyce will hope that Lee Cattermole shrugs off a groin problem to line up alongside Yann M’Vila, as the two deepest players in the middle of the park.

But if Allardyce persists with a midfield trio, who is the third member of that group after Ola Toivonen was again poor against Southampton?

Allardyce could persist with Adam Johnson in a central role, or give Jordi Gomez more attacking licence after the Spaniard replaced Cattermole for the Saints defeat.

Jack Rodwell and Seb Larsson’s hopes look slim though.

Rodwell is yet to start under Allardyce, while Larsson wasn’t even included on the bench against Southampton.

3. Does Allardyce have to start Jermain Defoe and Steven Fletcher together?

Allardyce was clearly agonising over whether to persist with Defoe and Fletcher as a strike double-act after both got on the scoresheet against Everton.

In the end, he felt it was too much of an attacking risk to field two strikers after Sunderland were butchered at the other end of the field.

But Defoe and Fletcher work well in tandem, are both natural finishers and the latter was left desperately isolated as a lone striker against Southampton.

Whether it’s 4-4-2, 3-5-2 or a diamond midfield, does Allardyce have to bite the bullett and restore two strikers to the side?

4. Does Duncan Watmore deserve another chance?

Although Watmore was brought in from Altrincham as a teenager, he became the first Sunderland player since Jack Colback to emerge from the Under-21 set-up and start a first-team game.

Many supporters welcomed Allardyce’s decision to include Watmore after the 21-year-old had been overlooked by both Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat.

Like the rest of Sunderland’s attacking players, Watmore suffered from a lack of service and attacking platform on his full debut after a bright opening 10 minutes.

But does the England U21 international’s tenacity and attitude warrant a longer exposure to the demands of starting in the Premier League, particularly after his feats for his country on Monday?

5. Is John O’Shea an automatic pick, if fit?

After missing Sunderland’s last two games with a hamstring injury, O’Shea should be available at Selhurst Park after coming on as a late substitute in the Republic of Ireland’s play-off win.

When O’Shea has been absent this season, Sunderland’s defence has looked rudderless and been regularly punished as a result.

But Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Coates were more assured as a double-act against Southampton, despite the visitors monopolising possession.