Sunderland boss David Moyes must decide who will fill Duncan Watmore void
Football can be a cruel game at times.
Duncan Watmore was enjoying his best performance of the season, with Sunderland leading Leicester City on their way to another crucial three points.
Then, with seven minutes to go, Watmore’s season was ended in the blink of an eye after coming off worse in a challenge with Foxes full-back Christian Fuchs.
Watmore set to miss the rest of the campaign with a cruciate knee ligament injury.
A crushing blow for the England Under-21 international and another injury for David Moyes.
The 22-year-old former Altrincham forward has been a regular under Moyes this season, linking up well with Victor Anichebe and Jermain Defoe in a 4-3-3 formation.
While there is room for improvement concerning his final ball and finishing, he will be a big miss to a Sunderland side that has turned their season around.
Sunderland will miss his energy, non-stop running, pace and willingness to run at defenders while also tracking back to help his defensive colleagues.
With Watmore out, we take a look at the options available to Moyes ahead of the crunch relegation battle with Swansea City.
The on-loan Manchester United winger is the leading candidate to replace Watmore at the Liberty Stadium.
However, it is fair to say the Belgian has not lived up to his undoubted promise since arriving on a season-long loan.
Recently back from a six-week lay-off himself, Januzaj has been challenged to prove he is a top class talent by Moyes.
The Sunderland boss said Januzaj has “great quality, great ability” but doesn’t feel he has shown enough of it since arriving.
Sunderland fans would agree. Just one goal in nine appearances and that was in the EFL Cup win over Shrewsbury Town.
His workrate isn’t up to the same level as Watmore’s and while Januzaj can unlock a defence with a pass, he doesn’t offer the same in terms of energy.
With every injury, a door opens and the door is currently wide open for Januzaj to stamp his mark on the team should he be given the nod.
Sunderland are relying on him to finally start producing the goods.
Another attacking player yet to find their form or rhythm this season is January signing Khazri.
The £9million former Bordeaux man hasn’t won Moyes over yet with just nine appearances under his belt this season, including only four Premier League starts.
Khazri had a run of five starts in October but hasn’t featured since the 4-1 demolition by Arsenal.
Another player with clear natural ability and a killer set piece delivery – something Sunderland have lacked all season.
But the ability to put a corner on a six pence isn’t enough for Moyes, with Khazri often wasteful in possession.
He too lacks the natural energy Watmore provides down the right.
Borini is the natural replacement and the Italian forward is closing in on a return after more than three months out with a thigh injury.
The 25-year-old has been making steady progress in his rehabilitation and returned to training last week, Borini also took part in the open session at Hetton yesterday.
A return to the squad isn’t far off and he is an outside bet to return at Swansea but after such a long spell out he won’t be ready to start.
But Borini offers a goal threat and energy and workrate down the right-hand side.
If Moyes wants to keep faith with the same system – and why wouldn’t he after a run of three wins out of four – then Borini is the man for the job.
Moyes expected him to be back by mid-December, an earlier return to the squad would provide Sunderland with a major boost.
Either way, Borini will play an important role in the busy festive period.
His return eases the blow suffered by Watmore’s lengthy spell out.
Fit-again Larsson is an option to replace Watmore.
His arrival at half-time, along with Jan Kirchhoff, helped Sunderland break down Leicester City.
His delivery from set pieces is a valuable weapon, Sunderland scoring from their first corner this season thanks to his delivery against the Foxes.
Larsson has played in an advanced attacking role for the Under-23s since making his return from knee surgery.
The Swede isn’t blessed with great pace but away from home, Moyes may see Larsson as the ideal man to replace Watmore on the right-hand side should Sunderland look to play a less open game.
Also, while he has only made eight appearances due to injury, Larsson hasn’t lost a game he has been involved in for Sunderland this calendar year.
A good luck charm.
An outside bet is on-loan Atletico Madrid defender Javier Manquillo, capable of playing wing-back or in a more advanced role.
He would only be called upon should Moyes go for a more defensive system at Swansea City.
But with the Swans shipping goals for fun, Moyes will be tempted to keep faith with the current system that has served him so well.
Watmore’s injury is a blow to the Black Cats but Moyes does have other options available to him.