How can Sunderland pull of a shock win at West Brom?
A trip to the Hawthorns is undoubtedly a daunting one for Sunderland in their current plight.
Well organised, high on confidence and climbing the table, Tony Pulis’ side will be looking to add to the Black Cats woes.
So having switched to a back five on Tuesday night, what should David Moyes do to try and pull off a shock win on Saturday? Here are some of the key questions...
Will he go with a back five again? What other options does he have?
Jack Rodwell’s injury has thrown something of a spanner in the works.
Moyes had favoured a 4-4-2 in recent weeks, after an impressive draw with Liverpool. When Didier Ndong left for the AFCON, Sunderland were left without the energy needed to play that system and without Rodwell, it is difficult to see how the Black Cats could pull it off.
Sunderland will need Seb Larsson in the middle of the field, to add some poise and calm alongside what is likely to be an inexperienced pair. If Larssson plays out wide, it would probably leave George Honeyman and Jason Denayer in the middle, an underpowered pairing for this division.
The alternative would be to play a 4-2-3-1, with Denayer and Larsson at the base and Honeyman behind Defoe.
Were there any positives to the new shape at Turf Moor?
It seems difficult to accept in retrospect but for periods in the first half Sunderland, if nowhere near being the better side, did look relatively comfortable.
The extra man in defence made them far less vulnerable to the long balls through the middle that saw them capitulate on New Year’s Eve. Of course, when Andre Gray came off the bench, Sunderland threatened to be overwhelmed again and his goal late on was very similar to his first in the league meeting.
Still, for the most part the Black Cats looked a bit more resilient and the extra centre-back gave them some much needed extra protection in the absence of Lamine Kone.
Sunderland have looked vulnerable to the high ball all season and there are few better exponents than West Brom. That extra body could be crucial.
What areas have to improve to make it work?
Quite simply, Sunderland have to make a vast, vast improvement when it comes to their use of the ball.
The benefit of an extra centre-back for a struggling side should be the chance to pause on the ball, to take a moment and keep it simple.
That patience will be crucial to getting the wing-backs in the final third where they can best exploit Jermain Defoe’s movement in the box and ability to escape the opposition centre-backs.
Their only chance of pulling off an unlikely result is to get them on the turn and running towards their own goal.