Under onsdagen ställs vi mot Sunderland, ett lag som, likt oss, bytt tränare under säsongen, men som ändå inte riktigt fått någon skjuts uppåt i tabellen. För tillfället befinner de sig i en prekär situation, under nedflyttningsstrecket. En som har full koll på Sunderland är Michael Graham, fotbollsskribent och supporter av den numera Allardyce-ledda klubben. I den här omgång av Q&A berättar han lite om säsongen hittills och delar ut en riktig smocka till ett svenskt nyförvärv.
1. Tell us about the season so far, are you satisfied with your team?
It’s been a horrendous season for Sunderland again and footballing satisfaction for Sunderland fans has basically just become one of those things that happens to other people.
There is a team in there somewhere when everyone is fit, but I am nit sure we are anywhere near close enough to finding it.
2. Which players has impressed for you this season?
Yann M’Vila and Lee Cattermole have been the heartbeat of everything good Sunderland have done this season. The latter has struggled with injuries, but when they are together as a pair we have looked like a completely different team.
Duncan Watmore has made an impact too and it worthy of a mention.
3. How would you describe Sunderland 2015/16? Strenghts/weaknesses
Sunderland’s strength is finding ways to lose a game. In fact, they are spectacularly good at it. Honestly, it’s a veritable gift! Their weakness, sadly, is finding ways to win games.
On a more serious note, Sunderland just haven’t been good enough. People can analyse it all they want and many have, but the nub of the matter is that, despite having some quality players, they just aren’t proficient enough as a team at the basics. It’s incredibly frustrating.
4. Name three key players for Sunderland in the game against Liverpool?
Lee Cattermole and Yann M’Vila, as mentioned, will be key for Sunderland in every game they play. The plan under Sam Allardyce will always be to try and keep it tight and compete and then nick a goal somewhere, so the other key player will be Jermain Defoe. He isn’t the player he was and he has struggled with niggly injuries, but he is still capable of making a huge difference.
5. It has been a while since Big Sam replaced Dick Advocaat as your manager, what has he changed?
Good question! We have won more games and looked better more often, but it’s just reverted back to the same old same old again of late. Allardyce is more focused on defending and making sure the team is competitive, and I’m convinced he is the right man for the job.
Something else he is doing which is not really being mentioned is he is making everyone absolutely sure what is regarded as an acceptable level of performance and what is not. After games, regardless of the result, his comments direct responsibility onto the players. Hopefully, long term, that makes a big difference to the club as a whole.
6. You signed Sebastian Coates and Fabio Borini from us this summer, what are your opinions on them?
I like them both personally. Coates can be a little dodgy, but he’s honest and is a very capable player if he can find a little consistency. In fact, I think that what he needs to find is a little nastiness. He’s almost too pleasant for a centre back.
Borini is loved at Sunderland and that’s why he needs to be here. Injuries have affected him in his second spell but he has the kind of passion that tends to sit very well at Sunderland. He’s a quality player as well once he finds some rhythm, so I’m still delighted to have him.
7. You have two swedish internationals in your squad, Larsson and Toivonen, how do you rate them?
Seb Larsson is easily the most underrated player at the club. He actually won Player of the Season last year yet many still struggle to appreciate his influence. He genuinely cares about the club too and will run until his feet bleed for it, then just keep on going.
Ola Toivonen is the anti-Larsson really. I think he’s lazy, soft, and goes through the motions. I’ve never really seen him take responsibility or assert himself on a game. Toivonen is like staying at an alleged haunted hotel when the only reason you think there might be a ghost is because you’ve been told there’s one. Watching Toivonen, the only reason you know he’s on the pitch is because someone has told you he might briefly show up at some point beforehand.
8. You also have a really talented swede in your youth squad, Joel Asoro, any thoughts in him? Have you seen him in action?
I don’t know a great deal about him to be honest, but he has recently scored a hat-trick in an important game and he certainly seems to be making strides. I know Sunderland are looking strongly towards Sweden for further prospects too, so watch this space.
9. Finally, the transfer window is coming up, will there be any players coming in at Sunderland? Where do you think you need strenghtening?
You can expect at least two or three. Centre backs are needed as an absolute priority, and expect Sam Allardyce to be looking for a centre forward of his own.
Vill ni läsa mer från Michael, följ honom då på twitter, där han heter @Capt_Fishpaste