Manchester City square off against relegation-threatened Sunderland later today (2:45 EST). After a difficult start to the season, Sunderland currently sit in 19th place, four points from safety. To gain a bit more insight into the Black Cats, I spoke with Rory from Sunderland's SB Nation Blog Roker Report. I also did a reverse Q&A with them, which you can read here.
- Give us a quick summary of Sunderland's season thus far.
RR: It's been depressingly familiar, really. We did our usual fantasising of thinking "things will be different this time" but they've turned out exactly the same. Dick Advocaat shouldn't have let his heart rule his head by coming back as he looked clueless, but he still has all of our affection after keeping us up last season and by bowing out when he knew his time was up. We had our usual routine win over Newcastle just after Allardyce came in and that's been our only major highlight really.
- Have Big Sam's approach and tactics meshed with the players? And building off of that, what areas of the squad particularly need more strengthening?
RR: Yes and no, really. Early in his tenure we played a 3-5-2 and looked quite effective with it as it allowed the likes of Patrick van Aanholt to push forward, it kept our central defence and midfield nice and tight and it allowed Jermain Defoe and Steven Fletcher to build up a strike partnership. We won away at Palace and at home to Stoke with that system but then we suffered a few injuries and it forced Allardyce to switch things around. There hasn't been much "hoofball" either as we haven't often played with a big target man up front, recently it's been Defoe up there with the likes of Adam Johnson, Jeremain Lens and Fabio Borini around him.
In terms of strengthening, we've probably done most of our business now. It had been a window that left most supporters quite frustrated but last week we signed centre half Lamine Kone from Lorient and attacking midfielder Whabi Khazri from Bordeaux. With 7 goals and 6 six assists so far this season, Khazri looks like the exact kind of player we need to take some of the goalscoring burden off Jermain Defoe and to feed him as well! Reports suggest that Allardyce still wants another right back, with Mathieu Debuchy being a possibility, and maybe one more player (the ridiculous Andre Ayew rumours keep circulating). I think we'll only see us sign a right back though and that'll be us done for this window.
- With another relegation battle underway for Sunderland, do you think the club will survive once again?
RR: We've certainly got a man in charge who knows how to get us out of it! Jermain Defoe is our biggest asset in our battle to stay up though and i'm sure all of the sides around us would kill for a goalscorer like him. If we can keep him fit and get him working well with Khazri then we have a huge chance. Our defence needs to stop leaking goals, hopefully Kone coming into the side and Younes Kaboul coming back from injury will be the answer. We'll have to pull off a couple of shock results as well but we've shown in the past that we're not adverse to that! I'm certainly not giving up hope yet.
- What lineup do you expect to Allardyce to use on Tuesday? Where do you see the key battles being played out on the pitch?
RR: It depends on what formation we play, really. If we do go to 3-5-2 i'd expect something along the lines of: Mannone Jones; Kone O'Shea Brown; Van Aanholt Cattermole M'Vila Johnson/Lens Defoe Khazri Or if Allardyce sticks with 4-2-3-1 then: Mannone Jones O'Shea Brown Van Aanholt Cattermole M'Vila Johnson/Lens Khazri Borini Defoe
- Finally, a prediction for the match?
RR: We seem to have lost our curse against Manchester City at home so that's knocked some superstition out of the window. My main hope is for some tired legs in your side since you're in the middle of an intense run of games and maybe some focus lost given the impending games against Leicester and Spurs. Our February fixtures are quite tough and we'll need to pull off a couple of shock results so i'll be optimistic and say that we'll snatch a point. A 1-1 draw, Aguero for you's in the first half and a debut goal for Khazri in the second half for us.
Many thanks to Rory for his time!