The Sunderland team that should start against Oxford United - Our writers deliver their verdict

Sunderland launch their League One campaign at home to Oxford United on Saturday afternoon - with Jack Ross aiming to kick-off a promotion push with a convincing win.

Wednesday, 31st July 2019, 5:45 pm

Ross has a strong squad at his disposal after the arrival of five new faces - so far - this summer.

Lee Burge, Conor McLaughlin, Jordan Willis, George Dobson and Marc McNulty all joining.

As a result, there is fierce competition for places at Sunderland, especially in the centre of midfield with Ross having a wealth of options at his disposal.

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sunderland kick off their League One campaign at home to Oxford United on Saturday at the Stadium of Light.

Up front too, Ross has a number of attacking options vying for a starting place. After failing to win promotion last season the pressure to start well will be on Ross & Co.

Our team of Sunderland writers have picked the team they would like to see start the new season as excitement builds ahead of a huge campaign.

Phil Smith’s XI (3-4-2-1): McLaughlin; McLaughlin, Willis, Flanagan; O'Nien, McGeouch, Dobson, Hume; Embleton, McGeady, Grigg

A team clearly picked on the assumption that Aiden McGeady is fit and ready to play.

Sunderland manager Jack Ross has a wealth of options at his disposal.

There has been much talk of Sunderland's lack of incision in pre-season but this system looks perfect for McGeady, giving him the freedom to roam across the frontline and pick up dangerous pockets of space.

Denver Hume will love the way he occupies defenders and frees up space out wide.

Elliot Embleton has done more than enough to start and he could be key to unlocking Will Grigg's potential.

That back five looks locked down, leaving the midfield pair the major question.

Leadbitter and McGeouch have both had good pre-season campaigns and bring so much composure, but we won't really know until the competitive games begin whether it's feasible to play them together.

I like the idea of Dobson and Embleton playing together with their different skillsets, rotating and asking questions of the opposition.

Richard Mennear’s XI: (3-4-2-1) McLaughlin, O’Nien, McLaughlin, Willis, Flanagan; Hume, McGeouch, Dobson, McGeady, McNulty, Grigg.

Jon McLaughlin is a certain starter in goal after a brilliant debut campaign on Wearside, Mr Reliable at the back.

In front of him, Ross is set to continue with his back three, a system he has played all pre-season.

That unit looks strong with new signing Jordan Willis in the centre, with Tom Flanagan to his left and Conor McLaughlin to his right.

Lynden Gooch got the nod at right wing-back against Heerenveen but didn’t impress and Luke O’Nien should start the season there, his energy and attacking ability a big asset, building on his good defensive work last term.

Denver Hume will start at left wing-back. Central midfield is the biggest headache but I’d opt for George Dobson and Dylan McGeouch, the former tasked with box-to-box duties.

It showed on Saturday that Leadbitter and McGeouch are too similar and can’t play together. It means the likes of Max Power, Ethan Robson and Leadbitter all having to make do with a place on the bench at best.

Will Grigg to lead the attack with support out wide from Aiden McGeady, if fit, and Marc McNulty drifting behind. That trio should strike fear into the heart of most defences.

If McGeady is fit, he should start.

And it also means there will be a raft of strong options on the bench including Watmore, Embleton and Maguire.

Ross and the Sunderland hierarchy have built a strong squad with good options in key areas and promotion back to the Championship is a goal that should be well within reach.

Mark Donnelly’s XI: (3-4-3): J McLaughlin; Willis, Flanagan, C McLaughlin; O'Nien, McGeouch, Dobson, Hume; Embleton, McNulty, Grigg

Jack Ross is facing practically the polar opposite of the dilemma he was handed twelve months ago.

Last season, against Charlton, Sunderland's squad was somewhat cobbled together - but now the Scot has an abundance of options at his disposal, and some perplexing calls to make ahead of the visit of Oxford.

Jon McLaughlin and the back three essentially pick themselves. The trio of centre backs impressed against Heerenveen and looked difficult to break down, so should be rewarded with a start in the League One opener.

At wing-back, there is little other option than Denver Hume on the left-flank while Luke O'Nien seems the sensible choice on the right - especially after Lynden Gooch failed to impress in that role on Saturday.

George Dobson's energy mean he could be a valuable asset in the centre of the park alongside the calm and composed Dylan McGeouch.

Then up top, Elliot Embleton's pre-season form warrants a chance to shine in league action while, if fit, Marc McNulty would prove an interesting option behind Will Grigg.

While I believe Charlie Wyke can, in this system, score goals for Sunderland, Grigg seems the logical and likely choice up top.

I wouldn't risk Aiden McGeady just yet. When fully fit, there is no better player in League One, but it's important to exercise caution at this early stage.

I'm sure all Sunderland fans would agree it's better to nurse the winger back into action and have him last the season than see a rushed return lead to a longer-term absence.