Stop me if you've heard this one before: Sunderland are in a relegation scrap, but come to White Hart Lane in good form. The first part of that statement seems to be perpetually true, but the latter half seems a bit of a rarity. With things looking a bit rosier than usual up in the Northeast, I sat down for a chat with G. from over at Roker Report, SB Nation's excellent Sunderland blog, and asked him some questions. You can find the questions he asked me here.
Cartilage Free Captain: So, things are not going so well up in the Northeast, huh?
Roker Report: Not particularly, no, but we've won our last two league games so things are certainly looking better. We've found a way of getting both Jermain Defoe and Jeremain Lens in the same team and things seem to be clicking up front.
Our forward line is much better than any team down the bottom, so the hope is that it can carry us to safety and out of the bottom three sooner rather than later.
CFC: Seriously, Sunderland do this every year and then every year they escape by the skin of their teeth. Is it just expected now or is it getting annoying?
RR: It's beyond annoying. That said, it's never boring being a Sunderland fan.
Staying up this season is absolutely crucial, and not just because of the massive amounts of money coming into the league in the summer. We have a massive chunk of our playing squad with contracts that expire in the summer, and should we stay up we have a huge opportunity to shift all that on and utilise the wages to sign much better players. Until then there's very little we can do with regards to moving players on, because put bluntly nobody is daft enough to buy our shite.
CFC: What's the source of the problem here? Sunderland have some good players and have had decent management, but they just can't seem to get over the hump.
RR: As stated before, we've made massive mistakes in the past with player recruitment and although the problem has been recognised it's almost impossible for us to do anything about it unless we breach FFP rules. Come the summer we can move the big earners on - players like Steven Fletcher, Danny Graham, Wes Brown and Adam Johnson - and use their wages to bring in players that can take this club forward. Here's hoping we last that long.
CFC: While clubs like Stoke City, Watford, and Crystal Palace have managed some astute and splashy signings, Sunderland seem to largely turn up duds in the transfer market. Is it just bad scouting or is managerial turnover hurting the club?
RR: It's a mix of both. Most of our first and second choice signings in the summer never came for a multitude of reasons and until we move players on it's increasingly difficult to sign players who will improve us. That said, we did some great business in swapping Jermain Defoe for Jozy Altidore last year and Yann M'Vila has been a revelation since joining on loan in the summer.
CFC: Will Sunderland make any signings in January? What areas of the team need to be strengthened?
RR: We've already signed Jan Kirchhoff from Bayern Munich and Dame N'Doye from Trabzonspor but Big Sam has made it clear that we won't be signing anyone else until we move a few out. Lamine Kone's move from Lorient has been on and off more times than my bedroom light switch but that looks likely to happen in the coming days and we could still do with a quality central midfielder or winger.
CFC: Speaking of managers, Sam Allardyce seems to get kind of bad rap, but I have a soft spot for him. What was your reaction to having hired Big Sam? Now that he's been in charge for about three months, do you feel like he's a good fit?
RR: I was over the moon. Had we waited a few weeks longer he would have gone to Villa, and that would have been a complete disaster for us.
Sam knows what he's doing, and of all the managers down the bottom he's got the most experience of survival in this league, so I'm confident. Even if we go down he should be kept in charge, because he just seems like a perfect fit for the football club.
CFC: I suppose we can talk about DeAndre Yedlin. How has he been? Is he good enough for the Premier League?
RR: In short, no, he's not good enough. Not yet, anyways.
He's athletically great but he lacks the concentration and defensive ability to play at right back in the top flight. The fact he's struggled to nudge a fairly average player in Billy Jones out of our team should tell you all you need to know. I wouldn't be surprised to see Sunderland sign another right back and send him back to Spurs - Sam has already publicly acknowledged that Lorient's right back Gassama turned us down, so it's clear he's not sold on Yedlin.
CFC: Anything you want to say about any of your other former Tottenham players? How past it does Younes Kaboul look nowadays?
Kaboul has been great for us. He's solid, great in the air and his assist for the final goal against Newcastle in October is as good as any you'll see all season - it's just a shame he's always injured! (B. - Sounds about right.)
CFC: We should probably talk about the game this If you were Pochettino, how would you set up Spurs to take advantage of Sunderland's weaknesses?
RR: I'd be doubling up on Patrick Van Aanholt and be looking to get as many crosses into the box as I can from your right hand side. We seem to concede by the bucket load when teams target our left back.
CFC: What Sunderland player should Spurs be most worried about and why is it Jermain Defoe?
RR: Ha. You said it. He's been outstanding this season, scoring twelve goals already - it's practically unheard of that a Sunderland player should enter into double figures with goals, never mind when we're just over half way through the season. He's got five in his last two, so beware!
CFC: Finally, how about a prediction?
RR: I'm going for 2-1 to Sunderland. Strangely, I'm confident.