Wayne Rooney might surprise us with Birmingham City line-up at Sunderland

We’re getting closer to the day when Wayne Rooney names an unchanged Birmingham City starting lineup.

In his first month on the job, the new manager has made several changes in order to analyze and scrutinize the players at his disposal. In his first four games, Rooney has used 18 different players and made at least three substitutions.

Given that the Blues’ 2-2 draw with Ipswich Town last weekend was easily their best performance under Rooney, we shouldn’t expect wholesale changes for the game against Sunderland. Krystian Bielik, one of the players who could have made the starting lineup, is suspended, so Rooney will almost certainly stick with Jordan James and Ivan Sunjic in midfield.

Ethan Laird made a welcome return to the lineup and demonstrated his undeniable abilities. Surprisingly, the Blues have yet to concede a goal with Laird on the field this season. Cody Drameh moved to left back to accommodate Laird, and the defense should remain unchanged at the Stadium of Light.

As is customary, the questions are up front, where Rooney has done the majority of his tinkering to date. In the absence of Dan Ballard and Luke O’Nien, Sunderland are expected to field an inexperienced central defensive duo of Jenson Seelt and Nectarios Triantis, both 20, so Rooney’s selection could be crucial.

Jay Stansfield, who is on the verge of a suspension after four yellow cards, will almost certainly continue up front. Under Rooney, Oliver Burke has also found favor.

Stansfield and Burke were at the apex of the Blues’ 4-2-2-2 formation against Ipswich, with Koji Miyoshi and Juninho Bacuna close behind.

The personnel may not change much, whether it’s that box system or the 4-3-3 Rooney used in his first three games.

If Rooney decides to make changes, Siriki Dembele and Lukas Jutkiewicz appear to be the most likely candidates. Dembele has yet to deliver under Rooney, but his abilities are well known.

If Rooney wants a striker to physically dominate Sunderland’s new defensive pairing, Jutkiewicz is the obvious choice. He does not, however, exert as much pressure as Stansfield or Burke.

Goalkeeper: John Ruddy

John Ruddy of Birmingham City
Ruddy was superb in Blues’ draw with Ipswich and didn’t deserve to lose his clean sheet.

Right-back: Ethan Laird

Ethan Laird in action for Birmingham City against Ipswich Town
Blues still haven’t conceded a goal when Laird has been on the pitch this season.

Centre-back: Dion Sanderson

Dion Sanderson in action for Birmingham City
The Blues skipper is one of three ever-presents under Rooney and should keep his place.

Centre-back: Emanuel Aiwu

Emanuel Aiwu of Birmingham City
Austrian defender Aiwu has started the last two matches after failing to get a look-in under John Eustace.

Left-back: Cody Drameh

Birmingham City defender Cody Drameh
Drameh is capable of playing at left-back and is relishing the competition provided by Laird and Lee Buchanan’s impending return.

Midfield: Jordan James

Birmingham City midfielder Jordan James
James has started Blues’ last two games and seems to have benefitted most from the managerial change.

Midfield: Ivan Sunjic

Sunjic has started three of Rooney’s four games and should keep his place with Bielik suspended.

Attacking midfield: Koji Miyoshi

Miyoshi hasn’t started away from home under Rooney yet. His position in the XI is probably under most threat.

Attacking midfield: Juninho Bacuna

Bacuna’s talents seem to be appreciated by Rooney, who has started him in both games he has trained for.

Striker: Oliver Burke

Oliver Burke of Birmingham City
Burke is very much in favour under Rooney having started all bar his opening match at Middlesbrough.

Striker: Jay Stansfield

Birmingham City's Jay Stansfield celebrates scoring the opening goal against Ipswich Town
Blues’ top scorer won’t always play, Rooney has told us, but he surely starts against one of the clubs that tried to sign him in the summer.

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