IN THE space of eight days, Sunderland will face each member of last season’s top three, writes Chris Young.
But while tomorrow’s opponents Chelsea have moved up a couple of notches from their third placed finish in May, Manchester City and Liverpool don’t possess such a formidable aura as they boasted in the battle for the title.
Reigning champions City are hardly cannon-fodder, yet defeats against Stoke and West Ham - plus Capital One Cup elimination to Newcastle - have demonstrated their vulnerability.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are hurtling away from the upper echelons of the table in an alarming descent after registering just eight points from the last nine league games. That’s bottom six form.
So with quick-fire meetings against City and Liverpool following this weekend’s visit of Chelsea, does Gus Poyet rest a couple of his big-guns for what on paper seem to be more winnable games?
Not a chance it seems.
“We discussed that, but I cannot do it,” said Poyet.
“I cannot think that we will have a better chance to beat City or Liverpool than Chelsea and so keep a few players back for Wednesday.
“That might be normal, but I cannot do it.
“The most important game for me is the next one.
“I’m taking this next one as the best opportunity because I don’t think we’ve got a player who is so incredible or special that we need to save him.”
What Poyet will do is rotate his squad throughout the week, albeit he doesn’t have an abundance of options with full-backs Billy Jones and Patrick van Aanholt joining midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini on the sidelines.
The return to fitness of South American pair Ricky Alvarez and Sebastian Coates should see them involved, while midfielders Liam Bridcutt, Will Buckley and Jack Rodwell are likely to occupy a place in the starting line-up at some stage too.
Poyet added: “We will make changes (during the week). I don’t know how many, but we will use the squad as best we can.
“There are players who are knocking on the door and want to play who are going to be used next week.
“I always say you’ve got a plan in your head, but then things can change because of a result.
“Let’s dream a little bit, if we beat Chelsea 3-0, it’s going to be harder to make changes for Wednesday!
“But in normal circumstances, we need to use the squad.
“These are games where we’re going to have to run a lot, we’re going to have to defend a lot and we’re going to need legs.”