It promises to be a fascinating battle at the Stadium of Light tomorrow, with injuries, sales and cup distractions for Southampton perhaps levelling the playing field.
So who will line up against who and what can we expect as Sunderland look to move off the bottom of the Premier League table. Here are your big match head-to-head ratings...
Fraser Forster (7) v (7) Vito Mannone
The imminent return of Jordan Pickford will put Mannone under a lot of pressure in this game, but two clean sheets in a row mean he is likely to keep his place. Forster’s stock has fallen slightly this season, but the former Newcastle and Celtic keeper is a dependable player who will present home talisman Jermain Defoe with a sterner test than Crystal Palace’s Wayne Hennessey managed last week.
Cedric (7) v (7) Bryan Oviedo
Debutant left-back Oviedo coped well with the tricky Wilfried Zaha last week and will have to be at his best again. Visiting right-back Cedric is unlikely to be particularly adventurous but will not give the Costa Rican space in behind. The pace and awareness of Nathan Redmond will also force him to curb his attacking instinct.
Jack Stephens (6) v (9) Jermain Defoe
Stephens is unproven at Premier League level and we’ll know much more about him once he has gone up against one of the best in the business. Tomorrow offers a major opportunity for Defoe, if his team-mates can keep their poise on the ball and deliver the service again.
Maya Yoshida (7) v (6) Adnan Januzaj
The Belgian was superb at Selhurst Park last week, but Sunderland fans know that consistency is the Manchester United loanee’s big problem. Yoshida has gone from third to first choice in Saints’ defence in a month and is good enough to make the jump.
Ryan Bertrand (7) v (6) Billy Jones
A model of consistency, England international left-back Bertrand has been a key part of a hugely successful long-term Saints defence. His experience will be vital given the recent upheaval, while Billy Jones has been back to his rock-solid best in the last two games.
Steven Davis (7) v (7) Seb Larsson
Two experienced campaigners unafraid to do the dirty work for their team-mates. A return to form at set-pieces for Larsson was a big boost for Sunderland last weekend. Northern Ireland international Davis has gone off the boil since the festive period, but his intelligence means he is always a goal threat, arriving late in the box.
James Ward-Prowse (7) v (6) Darron Gibson
Rodwell is an injury concern, and it will be a big ask for newcomer Darron Gibson to match Ward-Prowse’s vigour. The Irishman’s composure on the ball can be a huge boost for Sunderland, however, and can improve the hosts’ precision on the counter-attack. It could well be the case that he shares his duties with George Honeyman, with the 29-year-old – newly signed from Everton – perhaps not yet ready to play a full 90 minutes.
Oriol Romeu (8) v (8) Didier Ndong
Arguably the battle that will settle this game. Former Chelsea midfielder Romeu is seriously underrated and when the Saints are at their best, it is because he has built the platform in midfield. It’s a big challenge for Ndong, but he is blossoming on Wearside after a tough start.
Jay Rodriguez (7) v (8) Lamine Kone
Kone returning to his best in central defence has been such a lift for the Black Cats, a titan in the aerial challenge. Southampton, and Rodriguez, are likely to test him on the floor far more than Christian Benteke at Crystal Palace last week, but his growing confidence leaves you optimistic that it’s a contest he can win.
Manolo Gabbiadini (8) v (6) Joleon Lescott
Lescott did well last weekend in his debut substitute appearance, but, if needed to replace John O’Shea, this will be a tougher challenge. Saints’ livewire frontline is likely to test his speed and match fitness. Might Puel go with Shane Long to attack the gaps between the centre-halves and wing-backs? Gabbiadini produced a cracking goal on his Saints debut and must be watched carefully.
Nathan Redmond (7) v (7) Jason Denayer
The greatest compliment you can pay Denayer is that, in the last two Sunderland games, he hasn’t been noticebale, simply going about his business in a calm and unfussy manner. Ex-Norwich winger Redmond has gone up a level since playing through the middle this season, and his pace might just force the Black Cats to sit a little deeper than they might ordinarily like to in a winnable home fixture,
The verdict: Southampton 78 v 77 Sunderland