We’re well and truly into the business end of the season now, and Sunderland are preparing to welcome Burnley to the Stadium of Light in a relegation six-pointer.
Games are running out for Sunderland, who are still rooted to the foot of the Premier League table and desperately need points if they want to preserve their status as a top flight club.
Burnley, therefore, seem the ideal visitors this Saturday. They haven’t won away from home all season and that should indicate the Black Cats have a good chance of picking up maximum points.
But in reality, this is a Sunderland side low on confidence. In previous outings they have looked devoid of inspiration and any goalscoring threat. They’ll need to find some attacking impetus this weekend in what is a real six-pointer.
David Moyes didn’t give too much away in his pre-match press conference, but there was some bad news on Jan Kirchhoff. Many expected the German to take a place in the squad this weekend, but it was revealed the defensive midfielder will now be out for a further six weeks having suffered a set back on his return from injury.
Other than that, there seems no change from the squad Moyes had at his disposal against Manchester City a fortnight ago, other than the return of Jason Denayer who was ineligible to face his parent club.
Burnley, meanwhile, could be without Belgian international Steven Defour who has been described as ‘touch and go’ for the game, while Icelandic winger Johann Gudmondsson is still ruled out.
What should Sunderland expect?
Organisation is the name of the game for Burnley. As one would expect from a Sean Dyche side, they’re well drilled and their style of play is meticulously practiced. They won’t bring much flair and will certainly prove a different proposition to that of Manchester City in Sunderland’s last outing.
That’s not to say they don’t have threats – Andre Gray put Sunderland to the sword earlier this season and is capable of doing the same again if given the space. Scott Arfield, Robbie Brady and George Boyd provide plenty of ammunition from the flanks and whoever is partnering Gray – whether it be Ashley Barnes or Sam Vokes – will need to be watched carefully too.
Burnley will be resolute and tough to break down. They’ll try to restrict Sunderland to as few chances and possible, so the hosts will have to ensure they take those that come their way.
Where can Sunderland exploit?
It’s well publicised that Burnley are poor on the road. They’re winless away from Turf Moor this season and have barely been ahead in away games during that time. Sunderland need to exploit this and put their visitors under pressure early on. The centre-half partnership of Michael Keane and Ben Mee is good but far from spectacular. Defoe, Januzaj et al could cause them plenty of problems and, if Moyes can encourage his midfielders to push forward, there could be opportunities for Sunderland.
The fans can certainly play a part too – if they can create a hostile atmosphere and encourage Sunderland on to a good start then it could prove a positive afternoon for the Wearsiders.
Key battle – Andre Gray v Jason Denayer
Denayer will surely return to the Sunderland side this weekend, either in holding midfield or his preferred centre-back position. Regardless of where he starts, Denayer’s key responsibility on Saturday is surely going to be marshalling the lively Gray.
Pacy and direct, Gray is a nightmare for defenders. But Denayer is no slouch himself, and could be just the man to keep Burnley’s hotshot striker under wraps. Keep him quiet and the Clarets’ goal threat is near enough nullified. That should give Sunderland plenty of opportunity to create chances.
Last time they met – Burnley 2-0 Sunderland
The two sides last met in an FA Cup Third Round replay earlier this season having played out a bore draw at the Stadium of Light.
It was the hosts who ran out victorious in this midweek fixture at Turf Moor – Vokes and Gray netting to secure Burnley’s passage to the next round of the competition.
The sides have already met three times this season, with Burnley coming out on top twice either side of that 0-0 draw in the North East.
It’s a real six-pointer and a game Moyes will surely have earmarked as one to target. With Burnley poor on the road and Sunderland looking marginally better on home soil of late, it could be a good opportunity for the Black Cats to pick up a vital three points. A clean sheet is unlikely, but the hosts could certainly outscore their North West visitors.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Burnley
eir North West visitors.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Burnley