But the recent injury crisis surely makes it inevitable that Lee Johnson will rotate relatively significantly when Oldham Athletic visit the Stadium of Light on Wednesday night.
He has limited options in some key positions, and will be eager to protect the senior players he does have available for a crucial month of league fixtures.
The Black Cats are eager to launch a defence of their trophy, and strong results in the group stages despite significant changes will give Johnson confidence that he can land a positive result while the league remains the overarching priority.
So who could be set for a big opportunity to impress - and press their claims for more regular involvement in the coming weeks? Given a lack of options at full back and central midfield in particular, a number of players will sense opportunity.
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1. ANTHONY PATTERSON
Patterson is expected to return to Notts County when Lee Burge is fit again after a hip flexor problem.
The loan has worked out superbly for all parties so far, and the Papa John’s Trophy game could provide a chance for Patterson to underline his progress and keep his match sharpness topped up.
Photo: Frank Reid
2. FREDERIK ALVES
If Sunderland’s move to a back five continues then it could be good news for Alves, who theoretically fits that brief perfectly.
He’s quick, decent in the air and very comfortable stepping out with the ball.
So far, though, his league action has been limited. Johnson says he rates the Dane, but has consistently urged him to show more aggression on the ball and off it.
This is another chance to make an impression.
Photo: FRANK REID 2021
3. AIDEN O'BRIEN
It’s been a mixed campaign for the versatile forward so far.
Having almost left for Doncaster Rovers on deadline day, he broke into the side and made a really positive impression.
Like most of the squad his form ebbed away in that poor run, and this game should provide a chance to get some rhythm back.
Photo: FRANK REID 2021
4. ELLIOT EMBLETON
It’s been a solid season for the 22-year-old so far, but Alex Pritchard’s improved form offers increased competition for places.
With little playing time over the last week, it’s a good moment to offer him the chance to restate his claim for a league place.
Photo: PHOTOGRAPH BY FRANK REID 20