Burnley vs Sunderland: Is Tonight the Night Moyes' Hand is Forced?

Tonight’s FA Cup replay with Burnley is nothing more than an inconvenience to all but those dedicated fans making the trip down to Turf Moor.

Neither side will have a cup run at the forefront of their priorities with the threat of relegation in the offing. David Moyes and his Sunderland side certainly won’t want another public appearance so soon after a largely disastrous few weeks. 

His side were humiliated after yet another shambolic defeat at the weekend to Stoke, and return to the ground where they shipped four goals on New Years Eve.

Since that day, Sunderland have lost Lamine Kone, Didier Ndong and Wahbi Khazri to the African Cup of Nations, and Victor Anichebe, Steven Pienaar and Billy Jones to injury, albeit the latter was fit enough to return on the bench at the weekend. 

The absence of Ndong was particularly felt at the weekend, where Jason Denayer endured his worst performance to date without the Gabon international alongside him.

There’s not a whole lot Moyes can change in terms of personnel until some of those absentees start filtering back or an unlikely transfer breakthrough is made.

Which brings us to tonight.

If he can’t change the bodies themselves, then he has to change the plan.

Andre Gray ran riot when these two sides met in December, but Denayer and Djilobodji helped keep him at bay in the Cup clash on Wearside. Denayer’s performance on Saturday will inevitably, and rightly, raise more questions over whether the Manchester City loanee can cut it in midfield, but his qualities at centre-back have been shown in glimpses over the season to date.

If there is an area Sunderland are particularly hurting at this point it’s in the middle of the park. Lee Cattermole, Paddy McNair, Jan Kirchhoff and Lynden Gooch are all long-term absentees.

Donald Love, bafflingly, has been tried there on occasion without disastrous results, and Adnan Januzaj can also be used in a more central position, perhaps with Javier Manquillo used higher up the field. 

The biggest concern to Sunderland is the fitness of Jermain Defoe.

Rest him, and Sunderland don’t have much hope of progressing to the next round.

Play him, and Sunderland are risking their biggest asset in getting out of trouble, especially with another huge game this weekend.

Joel Asoro hasn’t started for the first team since September’s win over QPR in the League Cup, but could be thrown in if Moyes has his hand forced.

The manager’s reluctance to use the kids has infuriated fans, especially in the weekend’s defeat, but tonight could be the night that changes, if Moyes is already looking ahead to West Brom.

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