By SFC Media time Wed 24 Aug Club

Ahead of Saturday's game between Southampton and Sunderland, we got the lowdown on the opposition from veteran Black Cats reporter Graeme Anderson.

What has the start of the season been like for Sunderland?

Sunderland could not have had a more challenging start, in the sense that their pre-season was completely ruined by England’s pursuit of Sam Allardyce, which was quite protracted.

By the time they appointed him, Sam hadn’t recruited anybody, I think partially because they didn’t know what was going to happen. David Moyes was brought in fairly sharply, but only three weeks before the season started, so in terms of their pre-season preparations it could hardly have been worse.

The disruption has been massive, and also it’s been destabilising. We’ve seen that reflected in Lamine Koné wanting to leave the club and in Younes Kaboul leaving. Koné and Kaboul were key players in Sunderland’s survival last season, and two centre-halves that Allardyce probably would have built his team around, but Kaboul’s gone to Watford and Koné is currently training away from the club. 

On top of all that, they’ve got a horrendous injury list of key players. Vito Mannone has been added to that this week, with a damaged elbow, which is expected to keep him out for some time. They’re also without key midfielders Lee Cattermole, Jan Kirchoff and Seb Larsson. Billy Jones, the only recognised right-back they’ve got, is also out with a knee injury, and John O’Shea damaged his groin in the game against Middlesbrough last week and will be struggling to be fit.

What’s the style of play like under David Moyes?

A work in progress is what you would call Sunderland’s opening couple of games. Occasionally, Moyes has had to put round pegs in square holes, he’s had to deal with a patched-up side and hasn’t had his first-choice 11 in either game.

He has gone for a 4-2-3-1 system, with Defoe as the lone striker, but whether that’s his long-term plan remains to be seen. So his approach has been pragmatic – he’s trying to do the best with the hand he’s got, but we’ll really probably only start to see a proper Sunderland team start to emerge after the transfer window and once the injury list shortens substantially.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the team?

The strength of the team is the goalscoring ability of Jermain Defoe, which is undimmed, but they need more threat. Middlesbrough really did a number on him last week, and once they shut that out Sunderland really struggled to create chances. They also have energy. He’s brought youngsters in, so the one thing they have got is boundless energy.

Its weaknesses are the threadbare squad, the patched-up nature of the side that’s been put out there, with players sometimes being played out of position. Especially defensively, they’ve got problems. They’re going to lose their first-choice keeper, Vito Mannone, and John O’Shea’s out, Younes Kaboul and Koné aren’t present, and they haven’t got an experienced right-back.

What players have caught the eye, and who are likely to be key on Saturday?

Jermain Defoe, obviously. He’s still a fantastic talent and he’s still as lethal now as he always was. Patrick van Aanholt is a very exciting, attacking left-back. He’s scored crucial goals for Sunderland and has got pace to spare. He loves to attack and go for goal, so he’s kind of a secret weapon.

Then you’re looking at young Lynden Gooch, who’s a youth-team player who has been thrust in out of necessity, playing central midfield, but his enthusiasm and energy have really helped. Then there’s Duncan Watmore, who’s all about speed and attacking intent. Then, finally, Adnan Januzaj. He’s only done it in fits and starts, but he’s undoubtedly got the ability to break down defences.

How would you expect Sunderland to approach this game?

While the most optimistic Sunderland fans have been pointing out Southampton haven’t started well and this could be our first away win of the season, I think they’d be delighted with a point.

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