David Moyes admits that Sunderland have missed Younes Kaboul’s leadership this season, but is pleased to have genuine competition in his defensive ranks.
Lamine Kone and John O’Shea are both expected to be fit for the trip to Vicarage Road despite recent injuries, and could well rekindle their partnership at the heart of defence.
Moyes also sees Jason Denayer’s pace as a real asset, and by and large he did his selection prospects no harm in the 0-0 draw with Burnley.
Nevertheless, injuries and form have left Moyes unable to settle on a regular pairing, or trio for that matter, at the back, and he admits Watford’s Kaboul has been a miss. The Sunderland boss stressed, however, that the side’s attacking struggles have not helped his defenders.
He said: “I would agree with that. It happens in football when people move – Younes wanted to move back to Watford, that was his choice, but I would agree [that we’ve struggled to replace him].
“We’ve been trying to find defensive reliability – something we can rely on game-to-game. You have to remember that we’ve been under a lot of pressure as well, because we haven’t kept the ball well enough in front which has put the defence under pressure.
“We’ve had some competition because John O’Shea has found a bit of form at this part of the season, Jason Denayer has played at the back in a couple of games because we have needed his speed and his power.
“John has done remarkably well and hopefully he will continue to do remarkably well, for the team and for the club.”
Moyes appeared to favour Papy Djilobodji and Kone at centre-half before the latter’s injury, while the former has not featured since being banned for violent conduct.
The Scot insisted, however, that the Senegal man was in his selection thoughts, saying: “He’s ready, he’s training.
“He missed four games [through suspension] after the incident at West Brom.
“There have been some games – such as Palace – where I have chosen not to use him.”
Moyes is unlikely to make many significant attacking changes for the crucial game, having insisted that he is picking his best players in that area. Sunderland have often struggled when playing with numerous attackers in latter stages of games and Moyes says he has to get the balance right on that front.
He said: “I don’t feel as if there’s anything that can score me more goals, or make me more goals - if there was, I would be doing it now.
“I’ve seen the players for the best part of eight months, so I’ve got a fair idea of what we’ve got.
“No. In fact, it’s probably made us lose more goals [subbing on attacking options].
“We’ve had to try and balance that as best we can.”