The key issues Sunderland head coach Tony Mowbray will be working on during international break
Sunderland face a long wait until they are back in action – but what will head coach Tony Mowbray be working on during the international break at the Academy of Light?
This means that Mowbray is currently without any senior strikers, which could see youngster Max Thompson handed a chance to impress Sunderland’s head coach in training at the Academy of Light.
Despite Sunderland’s lack of cover in the out-and-out striker position, the club does possess some hugely exciting attacking options at the top of the pitch at the moment.
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Attacking midfielders Elliott Embleton, Alex Pritchard and Patrick Roberts worked well together during Sunderland’s win over Reading, with Mowbray deploying a false nine system after Simms limped off.
A similar structure was deployed against Watford but was less successful. However, Mowbray may be keen to nurture this system given the obvious creative benefits that starting three technically gifted can bring against the right opposition.
Using Embleton, Pritchard and Roberts together, though, does bring with it problems and leaves Sunderland without a proper focal point, making it difficult for the team to go long in times of defensive trouble.
One advantage Mowbray does have in his squad is pace – and it is likely that the former Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers man has set about working out how best to unleash Amad Diallo and Jewison Bennette.
Both players came on and performed admirably against Watford as Sunderland snatched a point at Vicarage Road, with the speedy Bennette netting a memorable equaliser, and Amad causing problems with his movement and running in behind.
With Clarke, Roberts, Pritchard, Amad, Bennette and Embleton, Sunderland have real quality and pace but do lack physicality. It is now up to Mowbray to craft a system and style that can circumnavigate that problem in the absence of Stewart and Simms.
We have seen Sunderland play both four and five-at-the-back formations so far this campaign and you suspect Mowbray could well be working on both to keep opponents guessing.
Mowbray will also have to manage the situation with his attacking players carefully and diplomatically. Amad Diallo has come to Sunderland to play football and will want to start games ahead of his return to Manchester United in the summer.
The 20-year-old ex-Atalanta attacker is a player with serious pedigree and hasn’t come to the second tier of English football to make substitute appearances. Over a period of time, he will be backing himself to start games.
Bennette will more than likely play for Costa Rica at the upcoming World Cup. He too will be eyeing starts following his contribution against Watford. Mowbray has also spoken about his embarrassment at having to leave Embleton out of his XI previously.
And then you have Roberts, Pritchard and Clarke… three of Sunderland’s best performers. Some players will be left disappointed with his selection and that’s before Stewart and Simms return to the mix.
Mowbray’s task will be to cajole those players and keep them motivated and engaged for what is a long season ahead with plenty of opportunities.