David Moyes will today begin preparations for his biggest game to date in charge of Sunderland.
The Black Cats boss takes his side to Stoke City this Saturday for a Premier League basement battle that they dare not lose.
This week numbers at the Academy of Light have been low, but today, bar the mammoth sick list, which has grown even longer by an injury to summer loan signing Jason Denayer, Moyes will have a squad to work with.
Given the large number of key players on the sidelines, his XI may, almost, pick itself.
But in what formation?
Moyes could well plump for a 3-5-2 when he takes on Mark Hughes this Saturday.
Moyes started with a 4-3-3 in the last outing with a new back four of Javier Manquillo and Denayer as the full-backs outside the recalled John O’Shea and Lamine Kone, with Jan Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole and the more advanced Didier Ndong in the midfield.
Denayer faces a spell out after tearing an abductor muscle in Belgium U21’s 3-0 defeat in Montenegro last Friday.
Moyes, of course, could restore Patrick van Aanholt to the left-back spot after his supersub role against the Baggies when he delivered a crucial late equaliser.
But the way he performed against West Brom, where he was used wide on the left of midfield, has given food for thought.
The way he won the ball in his own half to start the move which he finished off with Sunderland’s equaliser proved how effective he is in both halves of the pitch.
So, he looks ideal for the left wing-back role and, as the the team’s only other scorer other than the excellent Jermain Defoe, his presence on the park cannot be overstated.
How does that leave the back? O’Shea is likely to be a key man again at the heart of the Sunderland defence again, given his generalship.
Kone would slot in alongside him, as would Papy Djilobodji.
The summer signing from Chelsea has had a testing start on Wearside but there is some good raw material there and with O’Shea and Kone for company it would be a triumvirate to provide a strong physical presence against the Potters.
Van Aanholt and Manquillo would be the side’s width though the make-up of the midfield trio is not as easy to work out. Of the three members in the middle, Didier Ndong is the only one who looks like being fit – Kirchhoff is out for up to eight weeks after damaging his hamstring against the Baggies while Cattermole is a serious doubt.
Duncan Watmore, who set up the leveller for van Aanholt and was heavily involved in the best move of the match, is almost certain to start as the most advanced of the midfield trio.
That leaves one gap and three candidates. Paddy McNair started against Tony Pulis’s team and was steady before being replaced by Jack Rodwell who fitted the same bill.
But that will be what Moyes wants this Saturday – steady instead of spectacular, a result instead of an entertaining defeat. There is also McNair’s old Man United collaeague, Donald Love, who was used in the midfield in Sunderland’s Checkatrade Trophy win at Hartlepool United.
He would be the outsider, but an option too.
That leaves the potent Defoe up top, probably with Wahbi Khazri. The Tunisian played the vital later stages against the Baggies just behind the ex-England ace and will be favourite to reprise that role with Victor Anichebe still probably just shy of being ready to start.