Sam Allardyce’s first home game in charge of Sunderland sees his side take on rivals Newcastle United in a highly-anticipated clash on Sunday.
The Black Cats head into the encounter having suffered a narrow defeat at West Bromwich Albion, a result which leaves them rooted to the foot of the table.
Newcastle will enter the derby buoyed by their 6-2 win over Norwich City, and arguably slight favourites to end a run of seven games without success against their biggest rivals.
However, Allardyce is renowned for his battling qualities as a manager and he should pick a feisty team full of energy and endeavour as Sunderland look for their first victory of the Premier League campaign.
The only change which Allardyce should consider at the back from last weekend is the inclusion of Sebastian Coates, following the Uruguayan’s return from suspension.
Younes Kaboul has been extremely inconsistent this season and his organisational skills are often suspect.
Coates, standing at 6ft 5inch, will provide a slightly bigger frame at the back and his ability to win headers from set-pieces in both areas could prove a deciding factor against the Magpies.
Out of possession, Sunderland should sit with four across the middle and not allow Newcastle to find the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko in space between the lines.
Sunderland need to be energetic and determined, with central midfielders Yann M’Vila and Lee Cattermole ideal for such a feisty encounter, providing they remain disciplined.
Seb Larsson is hardworking, but Allardyce will be looking at his ability to deliver quality set-pieces as the leading reason behind his probable selection. Set-pieces in this game will be so important.
Jeremain Lens missed last week’s encounter at West Brom, and Sunderland felt his absence. The forward is powerful, tricky and consistent in front of goal while disciplined defensively – a real Allardyce player.
Steven Fletcher must start, as the Scotland international has all of the right attributes.
Sam Allardyce’s style of football may not be pretty, yet Sunderland don’t need pretty right now. Fletcher is a real battler and will win his fair share of aerial duels – an important factor for a direct team.
Playing off him and picking up the loose balls is a job for either Jermain Defoe or Fabio Borini, with the latter getting the nod due to his ability to carry the ball better from deep positions.
Newcastle have serious weaknesses at the back and in Rob Elliot, a goalkeeper lacking in top-level experience. Sunderland can hurt them, especially if they play at a high intensity and flood the box whenever possible.