The fireworks started early on New Years Eve in Burnley, as the Clarets smashed four past an unorganised Sunderland defence. Although Sean Dyche has hinted at changes for their FA Cup meeting on Saturday, Burnley will be hoping to produce a similar display in their quest for a solid Cup run.
Sunderland need to tighten up
Not known for their short passing moves, the Clarets will continue to go direct and test a nervy Sunderland back four. Despite utilising the experience of John O'Shea in the centre of defence, the unorganisation was clear to see as the long ball worked on numerous occasions for Burnley. Twice striker Andre Gray was able to burst clear and deceive goalkeeper Vito Mannone who was in another time-zone with his positioning.
Yet in the continued absence of Jordan Pickford, Mannone looked a lot stronger during the week against Liverpool where he picked off several excellent saves to earn Sunderland a vital point. Although the back four still looked shady, they appeared far more organised than they did against Burnley and will look to utilise such an improvement this weekend.
Nothing to lose for the Black Cats
David Moyes may ask his side to play with freedom and no fear as Sunderland look to enjoy a weekend away from their disappointing Premier League form. With Burnley's defence not playing much better than the Black Cats' this season, the likes of Jermain Defoe and Fabio Borini could cause a real threat if they are selected and provided with the service they desire.
The Clarets offered Manchester City far too much time and space on the ball during the week and the Sunderland attackers are more than capable of punishing their opposition if afforded the opportunities in front of goal.
Freshness could play dividends
Although both sides play with a more direct approach than many a Premier League side, the contest could ultimately be won and lost in the midfield battleground. Joey Barton is in contention for a return to the Burnley starting eleven after resigning for the club, though Sunderland are limited in their options due to a mounting injury crisis and players away on African Cup of Nations duty.
A fresh look about the Burnley squad could also play dividends. With David Moyes unable to make many changes, his side may appear fatigued after a busy recent schedule. It allows the opportunity for Dyche's fringe players to express their talents and lay down a claim for a first team spot against a relegation-threatened Sunderland side.