Tottenham Hotspur travel to Wearside on Tuesday for a mid-week league match against relegation-threatened Sunderland. Spurs are looking to solidify their place in the standings and maintain their grasp on a Champions League spot while the Black Cats are just looking to survive. Joining me again this time around for Know Your Opponent is Rory Fallow of Roker Report to discuss the struggle for Sunderland, if they can survive, and how great Jermain Defoe still is.
CFC: Well, it's another year and another relegation battle for Sunderland. The Black Cats are at the bottom of the table fighting for their lives again. What's been the biggest issue with Sunderland before this match on Tuesday?
RR: How long have you got?!
I suppose the main issue is the lack of options, although with a few close to fitness and some returning from AFCON, there's some light at the end of the tunnel there. Moyes' constant negativity isn't helping things either, he'll probably make the players watch the beginning of "Up" before sending them out on Tuesday night. Hopefully he'll start remembering to implement some tactics soon, as it's been worryingly similar to our first few games of the season, lately.
I guess the silver lining to this battle is that safety is only four points away, given how bad Hull City, Swansea City, and Crystal Palace are. Do you feel that there's an advantage that Sunderland have that those other clubs don't?
I don't think we have a particular advantage over anyone, no. We have the best goalscorer out of the four but possibly the worst defence. Both Palace & Swansea put three goals past us and our best defender actively tried to leave the club in the summer. The sooner Jordan Pickford is back the better, as his amazing ability really does paper over the cracks in our terrible defence and it probably means we have the best goalkeeper of the troubled four. I'd at least like to see him play for us a few more times, before Manchester City pay about £10m for him to sit on their bench. If only we had something in the middle of our striker and keeper!
Jermain Defoe is still pretty great, isn't he?
Yes. I love him, I absolutely love him. He's probably the only Sunderland player I don't actively hate for some reason or another, at the moment. Even Fabio Borini, who is usually just an adorable bundle of joy, is getting on my nerves at the moment.
I actually feel a bit sorry for Defoe. He comes back from his MLS nightmare, playing for fans who adore him, starts banging in the goals again, finds his zest for life again. Then in walks Davey Moyes, determined to drain that enthusiasm from him.
I think a lot of people expected the appointment of David Moyes to make a difference, but obviously that isn't the case. Is it a problem with Moyes tactics or are there just mitigating factors that he can't control?
Budget restrictions certainly haven't helped him and it meant that we had to sign players in the summer for high fees, spread over a large period of time. For example, Papy Djilobodji was reported as an £8m signing but we've reportedly paid £1m and are highly unlikely to get anywhere near paying the full amount. It was similar with our "record signing" Didier Ndong.
I touched on the injuries earlier as well and that has been huge. Long term lay offs this season have included - Lee Cattermole, Jan Kirchhoff, Victor Anichebe, Duncan Watmore, Paddy McNair, Lynden Gooch, Jordan Pickford, Seb Larsson & Fabio Borini. I've probably missed a few off as well. Most of them are big influences on the pitch and are crucial to the way we play. It's bad enough having a poor squad but having your decent players crocked doesn't help matters at all.
Moyes is far from blameless though. Before our first win (away to Bournemouth in November), we looked like a team with no cohesion and bereft of ideas. We then had a canny run of form due to performances from the likes of Defoe, Anichebe & Pickford but it slowly fell apart when we lost our big, physical presence up front and a superb goalkeeper. Even players like Duncan Watmore, who constantly harass defenders and put them under pressure, were badly missed as we didn't have the depth to cover for them. But Moyes doesn't seem to have a Plan B and we've slipped back into clueless displays and awful results.
When you factor in the constant moaning and negative statements (saying any one we sign won't improve the team was a particular highlight), it's fair to say he hasn't won many fans over.
Patrick van Aanholt looks like he's out the door and headed to Crystal Palace. This seemed out of the blue. What happened?
The money being too good to turn down was the main thing. We would always have to sell to buy this window and £14m for a defender who struggles defensively was great business. He was one of our highest earners too, so getting his wages off the books gave us some leeway.
I liked him though, despite some defensive clangers. Van Aanholt is really good going forward and we will miss that influence, so hopefully other players step up to fill that void. He didn't want to be here though and, with such a huge bid, it made sense to sell.
While we know the money involved in the Premier League means nobody wants to go down, but at this point would going down to the Championship not be that negative because it would mean blowing things up and perhaps injecting youth into the squad?
Even though I've pretty much accepted relegation, it would still be awful. I doubt we'd be able to replicate what our neighbours up the road are doing, although selling likes of Kone & Pickford will give us something to play with. We'll see Defoe depart on free, lots of loans go back and quite a few come to the end of their contracts. There won't be much of a squad left, so it will be quite a rebuilding job. Plus, our owner wants to sell and we'll be a far less attractive prospect in the Championship. Should we go down, I don't see us bouncing straight back up.
Do you personally think Sunderland stays up or is this the year they finally drop?
I think so. The manager isn't giving us any inspiration, we've had to sell to buy and we've got billions of injuries. If we stay up this time, it will be the biggest miracle yet.
How do you expect the Black Cats to line up on Tuesday?
Something along the lines of - Mannone, Manquillo, Kone, O'Shea, Jones, Denayer, Ndong, Larsson, Januzaj, Borini, Defoe
How about a prediction?
I can't see anything other than a comfortable Spurs win - 0-2.