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Know Your Opponent: A Q&A with Roker Report

The Black Cats are coming to town.

Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur look to continue their unbeaten start in Premier League play as they host Sunderland at White Hart Lane this Sunday. The Black Cats haven’t had it easy so far this season as they currently sit second from the bottom with just a single point in four matches. Ahead of Sunday’s match, I sat down with Rory from The Roker Report, SB Nation’s Sunderland blog, to talk about what to expect Sunday, if any type of dark magic is used to keep the Black Cats up, and if Steven Pienaar is old enough to collect Social Security in the United States.

CFC: Soooooo....what kind of black magic is employed up at the Stadium of Light? This is like the fourth year in a row Sunderland have survived relegation when it looked done and dusted that the Black Cats were going down.

RR: You could also say what curse is hanging over the Stadium of Light to keep us going back to relegation battles! Every time we look like we've turned the corner, we seem to get ourselves in a mess and this summer it wasn't even our fault. If only Joe Hart could have saved a weak Icelandic shot...

The black magic theory is a valid one for a few of our survivals but not for last season. From January onward, Allardyce had us well organised at the back and we were dangerous going forward. In the second half of last season, we barely lost a game either, as only Manchester City, Leicester City and West Ham defeated us in our last 15 matches. What kept us in trouble was drawing a lot and not seeing games out but it meant that when survival was confirmed, it didn't feel like a fluke this time. A massive factor in that was our January window where we brought in Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff, without whom we probably would have been relegated.

Sunderland lost Big Sam to the England job. What's the overall feeling of David Moyes so far?

Many fans acknowledge that Moyes not getting as much time to prepare for pre-season or much time to organise a transfer strategy has set us back, without it being his fault. So he's been given some leeway from supporters who understand that he doesn't exactly have an easy job on his hands. The opening game against Man City gave cause for optimism as an injury ravaged squad were unlucky not to get a draw but we haven't really kicked on from then. Away to Southampton we turned in a decent performance but still threw away a win, so some fans are starting to get frustrated which was amplified on Monday nights capitulation against Everton.

I just hope we can get some of our leaders back in the side (Lee Cattermole has a slight chance of making Sunday's game, for example) as we're clearly missing their influence. Up front, Jermain Defoe needs to be given some support as Moyes has him surrounded by young players such as Duncan Watmore & Lynden Gooch who just aren't ready to be starting games yet. If we can get back to being hard to beat, like we were in the second half of last season, then Moyes will be back on track to steering us away from trouble this season.

Moyes, as you've learned, trusts in certain players. Now that you've signed Stephen Pienaar who I'm certain is around 96 years old (citation needed), do you look forward to signing Phil Jagielka and Tony Hibbert in January?

Don't forget about Victor Anichebe, either! Moyes really is getting the Everton circa 2008 band back together. Pienaar has done quite well, in fairness. His ball retention is superb which is vital for a team like Sunderland and he's not scared to get stuck in. It's a shame he picked up a knock for the Everton game but it looks like he'll at least make the bench for this weekends game.

Tony Hibbert is probably better than Donald Love so, yeah, bring him in.

Does Moyes hate Wahbi Khazri or something? He's only started once in a cup tie and made two second half appearances so far.

It's weird, especially when Watmore & Gooch are struggling to make as much of an impact as they need to. I'd like to see him starting as soon as possible, probably at the expense of Watmore, because we're really lacking experience in the final third and it didn't half show against Everton. Our set pieces aren't as good with him out of the side, either. In fact, we don't really have a decent free kick/corner taker in our squad apart from Khazri.

I'd really like to Khazri back in the side as soon as possible, hopefully giving us the type of performances that were crucial to us staving off relegation last season.

Sunderland's survival last season also resulted in a certain Tyneside club going down to the Championship. Is it bittersweet at all knowing you can't play your rival unless it's a cup tie?

In short, no. Beating them six times in a row and sending them down, I'd happily never play them again! Plus, the build up to the game and how nervous you feel during it is awful. Apart from when you're thrashing them 3-0, then you can just sick back and enjoy. Even when we beat them 1-0 with a last minute winner, I felt sick for the majority of that one, so I'm not a one who get's "excited" for derby games.

Speaking of Newcastle, Spurs didn't do you any favors with Yedlin. What's the overall thought of losing Yedlin to Sunderland, if any?

Yedlin massively improved under Allardyce, no doubt about it. His defending and positional sense got better and his pace made him a tough full back to come up against. He wasn't without his faults though, his crossing, for a wing back, was pretty dire. No real complaints about him though, he had a good season but I wouldn't say the majority of supporters were desperate to have him back. Personally, I was fine with us trying to look for an improvement and in Javier Manquillo, I don't think we're any worse off.

We like keeping track of former Spurs players, regardless of how much they played for us. Speaking of which, how are you coping with the loss of Younes Kaboul?

I'm gutted about losing Kaboul, as are most Sunderland fans. He was a great leader and a real positive influence on the team. Great intelligence, read the game well, strong tackler, good aerial presence and pretty good on the ball too. His partnership he built up with Lamine Kone was just instant as well, it felt like we could keep anyone out with those two at the heart of defense. To see him go for such a small fee, in a summer of ridiculously inflated prices, was hard to take. No hard feelings towards him though, most will give him a good reception whenever he comes back to the SoL.

Will there be any surprises on Sunday from Sunderland or has Moyes settled into a specific Starting XI yet?

I wouldn't say we have a settled side yet, injuries has meant there hasn't been much consistency. I don't think Moyes will start Khazri, even though I think should come in for Watmore. It will be interesting to see if Papy Djilobodji retains his place after a shaky performance vs. Everton and John O'Shea might replace him just to provide some leadership to the back line. Our record signing Didier Ndong made his debut off the bench against Everton but it's still probably 50/50 on whether he'll start on Sunday. Lee Cattermole and Steven Pienaar are back in training too but I'd be surprised if Cattermole started. Expect something along the lines of:

Pickford; Van Aanholt, Kone, Djilobodji, Manquillo; Kirchhoff, Rodwell, Pienaar; Watmore, Gooch, Defoe.

What's your prediction for Sunday's scoreline?I'm not confident. At all. At best, we might keep you down to just one goal and sneak one ourselves. That's pretty unlikely though and I think you'll win comfortably. 3-1 to Spurs.

We’d like to thank Rory for sitting down with us. We did the same for him over at The Roker Report. We’ll update the article with a link once it goes live.