The two key Sunderland changes Michael Beale might well make this weekend - and three he probably wont

Sunderland return to Championship action when they face Plymouth Argyle at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon
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Sunderland face a huge week in their push for a play-off position, looking to build on four points from their last two games.

Here, we look at the key decisions facing Michael Beale ahead of Plymouth Argyle's visit to the Stadium of Light, and assess what he seems most likely to do...



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Beale set his stall out in his pre-match press conference before the Stoke City game. Though it was his comments on the criticism he was receiving that understandably drew most of the attention, he also signalled his determination to play with a number nine, stating that he felt it was something successful Sunderland sides had always had. He now faces a fine balance between giving his current options adequate opportunity to impress, and giving one of them a proper run at making the position their own.

As such, switching out Mason Burstow after just two games (one of which he scored in) is far from ideal but it's hard to ignore Nazariy Rusyn after his display against Middlesbrough last week. There was a touch of fortune about his goal as it squirmed under Tom Glover, but it was a reward for the endeavour he showed throughout a cameo appearance that did much to change the game. Supporters would love to see Rusyn given a good run in the side, and this seems like the perfect opportunity to begin that process.


Rigg was left out of the squad last weekend in order to play a full part in Sunderland's FA Youth Cup tie against Swindon Town at the Stadium of Light, a fixture that they ultimately lost 2-1. Rigg trains with the senior side every day and now looks set to to return to the squad this weekend, with Beale confirming that he expects the talented youngster to feature a lot more between now and the end of the season.

He may dip into the U21 side at times to top his match fitness in future, but it would be a surprise if the midfielder did not get on the pitch at some stage over the next week.



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Adil Aouchiche pushed his claims for a return to the side on Monday night, playing well and assisting Luis Hemir for the winner as Sunderland's U21s beat Bristol City 1-0. Aouchiche has not featured since the 2-1 defeat to Ipswich Town, a game in which he was criticised by Beale afterwards for giving away the foul that led to the hosts' winning goal.

He has shown in flashes what a talent he could be for the club, though mainly from the bench. Many supporters would like to see the midfield unit freshened up, concerned that Jobe Bellingham's huge workload so far this season is understandably impacting his form. Both Beale and sporting director Kristjaan Speakman have publicly dismissed this fear, though, saying that the current one game a week schedule means they can manage his training load and protect against burnout. Beale's slight shift away from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 in recent weeks also favours Jobe ahead of the more obvious number ten options in the squad.

A change this weekend is possible but appears unlikely, though Aouchiche will almost certainly be needed for one of the fixtures that follows in the week.


Abdoullah Ba's miss against Middlesbrough was undoubtedly a key moment in the game and the winger was later withdrawn as he struggled to impact the second half. To see Patrick Roberts back on the pitch was a huge boost, now very much a senior player in this squad and a very dependable presence over the last 18 months.

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Roberts' return to the starting XI at some stage is inevitable, you just can't leave a player of his quality out. It might not be as soon as Saturday, though. For all Ba's miss was frustrating, it showed his knack for getting in good positions this season - just a week after his goal and two assists against Stoke City. Beale also said he had been really pleased with Ba's general performance in the first half, and there are signs that he is really beginning to settle in that position. It would be good to see the 20-year-old given another chance to show his ability, particularly given that Roberts is around a week ahead of schedule in his return and so a touch of caution would be no bad thing for the rest of the campaign.

With a midweek fixture away at Huddersfield lying in wait, there's an excellent opportunity to bring Roberts back into the side if required.


Jenson Seelt was perhaps unfortunate to drop out of the starting XI last week but that decision wasn't really about his performance level, and more about Michael Beale's desire to move Trai Hume back across to his favoured position and get a naturally left-footed player in at left back to improve the balance of the side.

Leo Hjelde's steady debut vindicated that decision and he seems certain to retain his place after another week on the training ground with his new team mates. With Dan Ballard on nine yellow cards and Luke O'Nien on eight, Seelt's next chance probably isn't too far away and it'll likely be in his strongest position. Ballard left the field at Middlesbrough clutching his shoulder but Beale said he didn't think there was a major issue, fully expecting him to play on Saturday.

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