Sunderland v Tottenham: Chris Young’s verdict

Connor Wickham
Connor Wickham
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CONTINUITY has been Gus Poyet’s watch-word when determining his team selection during the season’s opening exchanges.

Poyet has been mindful of not tinkering too dramatically with the formula which saw Sunderland perform such feats over the final month of last season.

Seven of the starting XI from the Great Escape have largely remained intact in Poyet’s first-choice side this time around - Vito Mannone, Santiago Vergini, John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Lee Cattermole, Seb Larsson and Adam Johnson.

And two of the four changes have been enforced by the departures of Marcos Alonso and Jack Colback, with Patrick van Aanholt and Jack Rodwell offering like-for-like replacements.

But it is those two final two pieces of the jigsaw which are yet to completely convince.

Poyet’s decision to move Connor Wickham into a wide role, to incorporate fit-again Steven Fletcher, has unsuccessfully tweaked one of the key ingredients from Sunderland’s successful survival challenge.

Tiresomely, it has been yet another of those repercussions from the failed pursuit of Fabio Borini, with no clear contender to replace the Italian.

After three goals in three Premier League games - two of which have come from set pieces - perhaps tomorrow is the time when Poyet looks to try something new.

Fletcher has undoubtedly looked sharper than he did for the majority of last season and only a superb save from Rob Green in the defeat at QPR a fortnight ago denied the Scot his first Premier League goal since December.

But Wickham is clearly more effective in a central role and on the evidence so far, looks a better fit for Poyet’s lone striker system.

The England Under-21 frontman holds the ball up more effectively and is a constant nuisance, whereas Fletcher can go missing when the opposition are in the ascendancy.

With Ricky Alvarez on board now and Emanuele Giaccherini back to full fitness, Poyet has the options to replace Fletcher too.

Both players fit into the remit of the left-sided forward role and have the licence to drift inside, with van Aanholt ever willing to overlap down the touchline.

Giaccherini is surely the more likely bet, given Alvarez’s non-existent experience of English football, and the Italian’s inclusion would give Sunderland a far better balance and team shape.

Alvarez is much more likely to be included on a substitutes bench, which is beginning to involve a mini-competition to be involved.

But while the make-up of the front three is the hot topic, Sunderland’s chances tomorrow are likely to revolve around the contributions from their central midfield trio.

Tottenham’s victories in their first two games under Mauricio Pochettino demonstrated that the ex-Southampton boss was bringing far more out of the overseas influx which arrived at White Hart Lane last summer.

Considering how Pochettino’s Saints side utterly dominated Sunderland for the first half at the Stadium of Light last January, this is clearly a huge challenge.

Yet Liverpool’s stroll a fortnight ago showed there is still a vulnerability around Spurs when the opposition press them quickly, high up the pitch and with a healthy dose of physicality.

That’s what Sunderland need to do tomorrow.

Lee Cattermole, Jack Rodwell and Seb Larsson need to get breathing down the necks of Tottenham’s midfield and never allow them the chance to find space.

If Poyet’s men can do that, then they have a chance of breaking their duck.

But this may be another week which goes by with Sunderland still waiting for that first three-point haul.

Verdict: Draw