Are Sunderland as bad as they looked last Saturday? How should Norwich set up against them? Dan Brigham finds out from Black Cats fan and managing editor of the Roker Report, Michael Graham
Dan: Hi Michael. Thanks for joining us for a preview of a game absolutely no one is calling a relegation six-pointer.
Norwich shipped three at home to Palace last weekend and Sunderland were blown away by a side heavily tipped for relegation. So not the best of starts for both sides, but do you think it was a blip for Sunderland? Have you been happy with or distressed by Sunderland's transfer activity? Quite a few new players have come in.
Michael: I think Sunderland are a club who almost exist in a perpetual state of impending blip. We know the current squad are capable of total self-destruct and collapse. That's pretty much what the opening day was. It's just something I've come to terms with, but ultimately it's not okay and the club doing something about it is long overdue.
Transfer wise, I'm cautious but optimistic. Jeremain Lens is a full Dutch international, Yann M'Vila and Younés Kaboul are full French internationals, and Sebastian Coates was superb in the relegation run-in last season, although I think he's the kind of player who needs a few games to get himself into a rhythm. I think we've done okay, but hope we do better still.
Dan: From the outside, Kaboul and Coates look like accidents waiting to happen (although less of a potential car crash than Bassong and Martin), while you look slight up front (although, again, less slight than Norwich...). Midfield appears to be where you're strongest (again, like Norwich. This is getting silly now).
Do you think you're looking ahead at a season of struggle or are you optimistic of breaking into that hallowed ground of mid-table with the likes of Stoke, Swansea and Southampton?
Michael: It's funny you should mention that the midfield appears to be the strongest area of the Sunderland side, because if you asked our fans most would say it's the weakest. It's competitive with Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson, and M'Vila too who we haven't seen yet, but there is a serious and generally debilitating lack of guile and craft from central areas. Considering Leroy Fer and Adnan Januzaj have been big targets, it's an area you have to assume the club are still looking to strengthen.
Up front there is a little quality in Jermain Defoe and Lens, and while the defence can be shaky there is at least a very good goalkeeper behind them in Costel Pantilimon. The midfield is just very ordinary on the ball.
I think we'll struggle but survive. Mid-table looks out of reach for now, but safety – the nice type, not the trouser-browning type – looks achievable.
Dan: I’ve still got a soft spot for Fer. Pretty derided by Norwich fans for going missing in games, and being lazy, but I think he'll thrive under a strong manager. A lot of talent there.
Against Leicester it seemed they got lots of joy down your right. Where do you think Alex Neil will be looking to expose Sunderland? He's not a manager who'll be going to the Stadium of Light looking for a draw - and we've yet to lose away from home under him.
Michael: Some record, that! Wasn't aware of that.
If I was setting up against Sunderland, I'd be focusing very strongly on direct counter-attacking football. As I mentioned, I'm not sure we have the midfield guile to break down a packed defence, but very vulnerable to pace at the back.
Dan: Interesting. We don't normally go direct too often, but we do like to move the ball quickly on the counter-attack away from home so I wouldn't be surprised to see Nathan Redmond start on Saturday and Robbie Brady pushed forward (he was at left-back against Palace).
So let's finish with three quick-fire questions.
Where do you think Sunderland will finish this season?
Where do you think Norwich will finish season?
Score prediction for Saturday?
Michael: I worry about Norwich's quality and, to be brutally honest they are one of the sides I'm seriously hoping Sunderland finish above - one of the sides we can finish above and will need to. That said, they are also one of the sides I would like to stay up (as long as it's not at our expense!) I'll go:
Prediction: Sunderland 3-1 Norwich
Dan: Thanks Michael. Well, the last time we won in the Premier League was against Sunderland, over 500 days ago. I’m going for a repeat result but with a different scoreline – 2-1 Norwich. We always seem to put in a performance after a defeat or draw, and now might be a good time to play Sunderland after their opening day collapse. Although they're probably saying they same about Norwich...