Five Things We Will Learn About Gus Poyet’s First Sunderland Game

October 17, 2013 in Premier League by Ben Said Scott

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Before his first game in charge Gus Poyet handed out the same kind of positive messages as any other manager would: “right now we really need to pay attention to ourselves. First we need to start doing the right things; not conceding goals, keeping the ball better, creating chances - winning football games really”. He has gone about settling into the hot seat at the Stadium of Light in the right manner, a far cry from the circus that surrounded previous manager Paolo Di Canio’s arrival. However we still know very little about what to expect from Poyet and the first acid test will come away to a dangerous Swansea side that has struggled to find its best form in the Premier League this season. So what will we learn from Poyet’s first game in charge?


1. What will his tactics will be?

Sunderland have, so far this season, have used the two classic Premier League formations. The straight 4-4-2 was favoured by Di Canio, while Kevin Ball favoured a 4-5-1 (4-4-3). We know from Poyet’s time in charge of Brighton that he favoured the latter system and that served Sunderland well (to an extent) in their last two games against Liverpool and Manchester United. However Poyet said that he is a big fan of 4-4-2 and that the system he implemented at Brighton was forced upon him by the type of player he had available rather than personal preference.

At Sunderland , I believe, we have the players to play both systems well so Poyet has a choice to make. Steven Fletcher, Fabio Borini and Connor Wickham could give more support to Jozy Altidore who has often looked lonesome up top by himself. While a midfield three of Craig Gardner, Lee Cattermole and Ki-Sueng Yueng offers a good balance of flair and determination that was almost pivotal in getting a victory against the Man Utd last time out. The choice becomes more interesting when you consider than key players for both formations won’t be available to Poyet, Fletcher is out through injury, while Ki is ineligible as he is on loan from Swansea.


2. Is Poyet a Di Canio lite and where Kevin Ball will stand?

The touchline could be a fascinating place on Saturday. During Di Canio’s reign it certainly was, and one of the criticisms levelled at Poyet is that he is a bit too much like Di Canio in this regard. If Poyet asks the officials to send him to the stand alarm bells will most certainly begin ringing in Sunderland fans’ ears.

The other reason why the touchline could be a fascinating place is that it could give an indication as to how much Poyet has Kevin Ball in his plans. Ball has returned to his previous role as head of development at the Academy of Light. Poyet has also brought in a few of his own backroom staff. However having Ball on the touchline alongside Poyet could work wonders for getting both the team and fans on board quickly. Having Ball there against United and Liverpool certainly seemed to galvanize the players.


3. Will past mistakes be forgiven?

The big story in the Sunderland press this week has revolved around black sheep of the family: Phil Bardsley, who apparently has been given a fresh start under Di Canio. With current right back Ondřej Čelůstka away on international duty with the Czech Republic Bardsley has had an early opportunity to impress the new management. However following his social media mistakes, including laughing at Sunderland’s opening day defeat on Instagram, many fans don’t want him anywhere near a red and white shirt ever again. Di Canio took a similar view and tried to sell him in the summer only to see an injury force the Scotland international into limbo. However Lee Cattermole, another player ostracized during the Di Canio regime, has been key to Sunderland’s recent upturn in form and Bardsley is an experienced Premier League campaigner. So while it would take a brave coach to even select the former Sunderland player of the year, having Bardsley on the bench will be a choice still have to be made by Poyet.


4. Where do the summer recruits stand?

Sunderland were heavily criticized for bringing in 14 new players this Summer. This has only been highlighted by the team’s dramatic failure so far this season. However I strongly believe that all the players brought in were updates on what we already had, based on what I have seen of them. Yet I don’t think any of them have been utilised effectively and consistently. Both Emmanuelle Giaccherini and Valentin Roberge were terrific against Manchester United and I would like to see them reprise their roles. Altidore and Čelůstka will also hopefully keep their places in the starting line-up, while Charis Marvais and Fabio Borini should be available from the bench.

However players such as Cabral, El-Hadji Ba and David Moberg-Karlsson who all looked so impressive in pre-season have failed to really get any sort of look in. It will be interesting to see how many of these players will be used by Poyet or how much he will rely on past Premier League experience and draft in players like David Vaughan and Sebastian Larsson for their ‘dependability’ rather than their actual usefulness to the team. Good management in this department is key to getting Poyet’s reign off to a good start.


5. Is the situation hopless?

I know there are still lots of games to play but the Black Cats are already cut adrift from the teams above them (I am discounting Crystal Palace because I think they are already down) and we cannot afford to let another week go by without closing the six point gap that has opened up between us and the rest of the pack. Performances over the last two games have warranted points and although it is Poyet’s first game in charge the pressure is already on to get something from the game. If we lose the future will look incredibly bleak, if it isn’t already, for the Premier League future of Sunderland. If Poyet maintains the performance level that Ball instilled then I am confident of getting something from the Liberty Stadium.

Whatever the result though it is guaranteed that we will know a lot more about the new Sunderland manager after this game than we know now.