CONNOR WICKHAM is set to go straight into Sunderland’s starting line-up at Liverpool tomorrow following his surprise recall from a loan spell at Leeds United.
But while one striker returns to Wearside, another is set to depart at the end of the season with Reds boss Brendan Rodgers revealing that Fabio Borini will definitely leave Sunderland to head back to Anfield once his loan deal expires in the summer.
Borini, who is ineligible for tomorrow’s game against his permanent employers, has made a significant impression since joining Sunderland last August, with his six goals in all competitions making him the Black Cats’ top-scoring striker.
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Only last week, Gustavo Poyet was outlining his desire to sign the Italian on a permanent basis this summer, but ahead of tomorrow night’s encounter at Anfield, Rodgers has ruled out any possibility of Borini remaining at the Stadium of Light.
“Fabio went out on loan to get games and play regularly," said the Liverpool boss. “He has shown with the goals he has scored against the big clubs, including in the Capital One Cup final, the quality he has.
“He went away to experience playing, but he will come back next season and will be better for it. He has done very well. He has played as a striker and played out wide in pressurised games.”
While Borini will not be a Sunderland player next season, Wickham now has an unexpected opportunity to push his own claims for a regular starting spot in the future.
The 20-year-old was instructed to return to Wearside yesterday, and will train with the rest of the Black Cats’ first-team squad later today before heading to Merseyside.
Having joined Leeds on loan in February, he failed to score in five matches for the Elland Road club. However, he scored eight goals in 11 appearances during a previous loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday this season and is set to receive a final chance to establish himself in Sunderland’s first team.
With Steven Fletcher potentially sidelined for the remainder of the season with an ankle problem, Poyet’s decision to recall Wickham underlines his lack of faith in both Jozy Altidore and Ignacio Scocco.
Altidore, who has only scored one league goal all season, produced yet another below-par display at Norwich City on Saturday, with his lack of mobility and movement hampering Sunderland’s attacking efforts.
Scocco is yet to start a Premier League game since completing a £3m move from Internacional in January, and Poyet clearly harbours serious reservations about the Argentinian’s ability to make an impact in the remaining ten games of the season.
Whether Wickham will be any more effective is a moot point, but at least the England under-21 international boasts extensive experience of the English game and should be considerably more adept at holding the ball up than Altidore.
He has only made 11 Sunderland starts since Steve Bruce shelled out £8.1m to sign him from Ipswich Town in 2011, and Paolo Di Canio publicly questioned his attitude after being less than impressed with his efforts in training.
Poyet brought him off the bench during last month’s matches with Hull and Southampton, only to send him to Leeds when he failed to make an impact in either game.
However, yesterday’s developments underline the Uruguayan’s mounting desperation as he attempts to add some creativity and attacking threat to a side that has failed to score in its last three matches.
Centre-forward is not the only position causing Poyet a selection dilemma ahead of the trip to Anfield, as the Black Cats boss must also identify a replacement for the suspended Marcos Alonso at left-back.
Andrea Dossena stood in for Alonso in a number of cup matches, but the Italian looked badly out of form in this month’s FA Cup defeat at Hull and will not have happy memories of his unsuccessful spell as a Liverpool player.
Poyet tends to prefer to play full-backs in their natural position, but he could make an exception tomorrow by dropping Jack Colback into the back four.
Whatever he decides to do with Colback, he is almost certain to restore Lee Cattermole to the starting XI after the Teessider made a major impression when he came off the bench at Norwich.
Cattermole provided some much-needed energy and leadership at Carrow Road, and is expected to play alongside Liam Bridcutt at the base of midfield tomorrow.
* A strong Sunderland development side featuring the likes of Carlos Cuellar, Ondrej Celustka, Valentin Roberge and Charis Mavrias secured a 1-0 win over Fulham yesterday afternoon.
Jordan Laidler drilled home the only goal of the game from close range as Sunderland’s second string moved up to fourth in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League table.