GUS POYET does not know his strongest Sunderland XI and has challenged his players to prove they are good enough to start against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
Sunderland completed their pre-season preparations with a 2-0 win over Udinese on Saturday, and while Poyet has several first-choice players, he has not made a final decision on who else will line up at The Hawthorns in the first game of the Premier League season.
“The players are realising it's up to them," said Poyet, who is confident of making further signings in time for the trip to the West Midlands.
“My formation is not fixed. Like any other managers I've got six or seven players I prefer and who will play if they are fit enough. The other places are up for grabs. It depends on how they perform, how they train and how important they are for the team.
“I've got a few decisions to make. The goalkeeper is one and there's another one we need to make sure we get right because it's about having the right balance.
“Those players need to understand what we need now, while others might take their time. There are going to be a few decisions but that's what I like. If it was too easy, it would mean I haven't got too many options."
Poyet had hoped to field entirely different teams against Real Betis on Thursday and Udinese on the Saturday, but the lack of movement in the transfer market - Costel Pantilimon, Jordi Gomez, Billy Jones, Patrick van Aanholt and Jack Rodwell are the only signings so far - forced the Sunderland boss to alter his plans.
“To be honest, my idea was to be as close as possible to the full squad," said Poyet, who would not be drawn on reports linking Sunderland with a season-long loan for new Manchester City signing Bruno Zuculini. "These two games, there was a reason behind them. We couldn't really achieve that because I wanted most of the players to play 90 minutes on Thursday, and the same on Saturday.
"Because of the quantity of players we changed it slightly but we adapted. That's something we need to do all the time – adapt to the quantity of players, to the quality, to the weather.
“Apart from that we know we are still working and like any other manager if I can bring a few more in I will be more than happy."
Santiago Vergini and Connor Wickham scored second-half goals against the Serie A outfit, while Alfred N'Diaye and Danny Graham both came off the bench.
They are two players who face a future away from Wearside, but Poyet admitted that N'Diaye's move to Real Betis may not happen.
“There are plenty of people interested in Alfred. We need to wait and see. We'll see when everything is sorted and we get to the end of the month.
“Everything is clear. It's difficult and unfair to say everything to the press. We know where we stand and the players know themselves. We need to wait and see what is going to happen but my idea is still to have a squad with the right players, the balance, the quantity per position or per line before 31st August. We'll see."
In Udinese, Sunderland faced their stiffest test of the pre-season campaign thus far, with the Italians comfortable in possession and looking capable of penetrating the Black Cats backline, mainly through striker Luis Muriel, who shone at Heritage Park.
Charis Mavrias, employed in his preferred attacking right-wing role for Sunderland, fired a dipping volley wide after a decent lofted through-ball from Vergini with three minutes on the clock.
Wickham made Udinese goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic work five minutes after the restart with a powerful free-kick that Brkic pushed on to his post, but there was nothing that the stopper could have done moments later when Vergini piled in to convert Gomez’s corner.
It was two in two minutes when Vergini was felled inside the area by Igor Bubnjic, Wickham making no mistake from the penalty area.
Jozy Altidore made his first appearance for Sunderland since the World Cup, but it was Udinese who went on the attack with Bruno Fernandes drawing a save out of Mannone, who was a half-time substitution for Pantilimon.
A raft of substitutions from both sides ended the game as a contest as the hosts – in unfamiliar surroundings of the Northern League ground in Bishop Auckland – eased home.
Poyet was amused that the rumour mill has thrown up some players that he or his staff have never heard of, but is confident of making progress on the players he is genuinely interested in - including Marcos Alonso and Fabio Borini.
“I got a list recently (of players linked to Sunderland this summer). Sometimes it's funny because you don't even know the players, you don't know who they are or how they've been linked to us. It's incredible.
“We're a week away and the days will pass quite quickly but we are working on transfers and hope to have something very, very soon."