- Sunderland must unleash one of their new signings alongside Jobe Bellingham against Southampton.
- The player has the potential to replace the outgoing Ross Stewart at the Stadium of Light.
- He’s been described as a ‘big physical unit’ by one renowned talent scout.
Sunderland’s start to the season would suggest they’re still recovering from the heartache of losing to Luton Town in the play-offs.
The Black Cats opened their campaign with disappointing defeats against Ipswich and Preston, and recorded their first victory of the season over Rotherham before playing out a goalless draw against Coventry.
While Tony Mowbray’s side have struggled for consistency so far, they face their toughest test of the season this afternoon as Southampton arrive at the Stadium of Light aiming to extend their unbeaten run.
The Saints have taken to life back in the Championship like a duck to water having recorded three victories in their first four, only dropping points in their thrilling 4-4 draw against Norwich.
What is the Sunderland team news vs Southampton?
Ahead of this fixture, Mowbray is missing Patrick Roberts, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury which means Abdoullah Ba should keep his place down the right flank with Jack Clarke flying down on the other side.
Elsewhere, dynamic duo Pierre Ekwah and Dan Neil will likely continue their partnership as a double pivot in Sunderland’s engine room with a back four (from right to left) of Trai Hume, Luke O’Nien, Dan Ballard and Dennis Cirkin.
In their forward line, Jobe Bellingham looks nailed on to keep his place having impressed in the central-attacking role with a brace against Rotherham.
The main decision on Mowbray’s mind will be deciding who to select out of Bradley Dack, Alex Pritchard and Luis Semedo. While Dack or Pritchard would likely operate behind Bellingham as an attacking midfielder, the introduction of Semedo could see him become Sunderland’s focal point up front.
Will Luis Semedo start against Southampton?
Arriving at the club on a five-year deal from Benfica this summer, the Portuguese striker has been restricted to opportunities in the Championship.
Having started in their season opener against Ipswich, Semedo’s playing time has since been restricted to cameo appearances off the bench, featuring a combined 47 minutes across their last three fixtures.
Since suffering a long-term injury to Ross Stewart, Sunderland have missed a focal point up top and this has severely impacted their attacking output.
Despite only featuring 13 times in the Championship last season, Stewart managed to score an impressive ten times and while Semedo would struggle to replicate those returns, he would offer similar attributes to the Scotsman.
Standing at 6 foot 2, Semedo is physically imposing while his ability to drop deep, receive the ball and drive forward at pace are characteristics that Sunderland have missed centrally, forcing Mowbray into a heavy reliance on the threat of Roberts and Clarke from wide.
The “big physical unit”, as lauded by journalist Josh Bunting, would not only provide his side with the necessary physical attributes to lead their line, but his clever movement in behind could provide a perfect foil for the Black Cats’ teenage starlet, Bellingham.
At just 17-years-old, the “freak of nature”, as described by teammate Dan Neil, is threatening to follow in the world-beating direction of his brother.
Since joining the club from Birmingham in June, Bellingham has been a fulcrum in Sunderland’s attack, impressing with his tremendous physical attributes and ability to manipulate possession of the ball in tight areas, with the statistics backing up that claim.
Across the last year of action, Bellingham ranks in the top 2% of positionally similar players across the Championship and eight most similar leagues for successful take-ons (64%), top 2% for non-penalty xG per shot (0.18) and top 10% for long pass completion (64.3%), as per FBref.
Meanwhile, it isn’t only in the final third where the youngster has made a significant impact, he’s shown a strong defensive aspect to his game which means he can press high and win possession back. For blocks, clearances and aerials won, Bellingham is ranked inside the top 10% when compared to his positional peers.
With the Englishman excelling in those key midfield attributes, partnering him behind Semedo is a mouth-watering prospect, and it could pay dividends for Sunderland against Southampton and beyond, should they be patient with the talented Portuguese striker.