Steve Bruce has made a lot of noise recently about a new striker coming to the club before the transfer window slams shut (it always slams doesn’t it?). To quote the man himself recently he has "one or two irons in the fire" which is great of course as we’re short on striking prowess, but if/when Striker X arrives on Wearside, who will be making way?
It’s a very tough call to make, especially since we’ve added so many players to the side this summer, all of whom will be desperate to play.
All in all though, someone, somewhere in the matchday squad will have to make way if not someone definitely in the starting XI. So who? Have a read of our thoughts, and vote in our poll!
The back four or five don’t really factor into this, so we’ll immediately move into midfield, where regardless of whether we’re 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2, it’s going to be a four, and this is where the problem begins. Bruce has to find four from the six currently available to him, and this isn’t taking into account versatile players like Stephane Sessegnon or Kieran Richardson, nor does it count long term injury victim David Meyler.
It’s a good problem to have I suppose having such a difficult decision to make, but there is a feeling that several of the midfield are a bit of a muchness.
We can plug one player in who won’t be being dropped, and that’s the captain Lee Cattermole. Love him or hate him, he’s our captain, and therefore one of the first names on the teamsheet. For what it’s worth, I like Cattermole. Of course he’s always likely to make a rash tackle or get himself suspended, but he breaks up play superbly well – and that’s all we want him to do really.
Last season he made more successful tackles per game than any other Sunderland player, averaging out at 3.9 per game, whilst he also led the team in interceptions with 3 per game. His passing success rate was also a very reputable 79%. To put that into context he out performed Michael Essien, Paul Scholes & Darren Fletcher in everything bar passing.
For me Cattermole is an every week start when fit and available, so we’ll look at who’ll partner him in the middle.
This could well be tricky. Steve Bruce splashed out around £5m on Craig Gardner this summer to play as an attacking midfielder alongside Cattermole. He also added the hardworking David Vaughan who could do a job in there. However, it’s last season’s star man Jack Colback who has retained the place.
Colback has picked up where he left off last season with some fine performances in the early part of the season, and looks very much in contention to retain a place in the midfield, but such is his versatility, he could find himself pushed out wide left. He did a decent job in that position pre-season, and if he could make it his own, he could save us plenty of money. Like Jordan Henderson before him, he no doubt see’s his future in the middle of the park, but for now is best suited out wide.
So with Cattermole in the middle, Colback out wide left, it seems Craig Gardner is well ahead of David Vaughan in Steve Bruce’s grand plan. Gardner has come on as sub ahead of Vaughan on a few occasions, well as getting a starting role at Swansea City, where he had a good game.
And now to the right of midfield, where there’s three main options – Ahmed Elmohamady, Sebastian Larsson and Stephane Sessegnon - Sess dropping wide if we choose to go with two up front, although even then he could be one of the two. Regardless of that it seems Elmo is bottom of the list of the three. I like Elmo, and feel he’ll develop into a good player, but at the moment he’s not better than Larsson or Sessegnon, and will no doubt be resigned to substitute appearances when we want to role the dice or add some energy to the midfield.
So when it comes to Sess v Seb, it’s in no way insulting to the Swede to say Sessegnon is the better player, although what goes for our new signing from Birmingham is that he’s more of a natural fit wide right of midfield, where as Sess has a tendency to wander, not to mention Larsson’s superior delivery from set pieces.
All in all, for me this leads to Sebastian Larsson taking the right wing role completing a midfield of, from left to right – Colback, Cattermole, Gardner, Larsson.
Sorry Mr Vaughan, you’re just going to have to wait for the inevitable suspensions or an injury to force your way in. Same goes for messers Meyler & Elmohamady.
And into attack, where despite we actually do have options, unfortunately each comes with a problem. Ji Dong-Won is useful with his feet, but not particularly physically imposing. Connor Wickham is imposing, but very raw. Asamoah Gyan is out of sorts and not fit, whilst Stephane Sessegnon needs someone to play off as opposed to being the lead man.
Sess is an absolute must start regardless of who comes in, and what system we play. He’s far and away our most creative player, and one of only a few who can run with the ball past a player.
It’s too early to throw Ji and/or Wickham in alongside him I feel, and clearly Steve Bruce does too which is why he’s looking at strikers, and starting Gyan ahead of both.
And this is where we find our fall guy. I’m sorry Asamoah, but now is not your time. As I’ve mentioned, Steve Bruce said last week he’s not himself, and he’s not fit. Until he is, I’d suggest our Ghanaian God is relegated to the bench until it starts happening for him in training rather than force him into the team, in front of a crowd baying for blood.
For me, barring the unlikely signing of an absolutely world class striker, Gyan will remain the undisputed No.1 striker at the club. But for now, he isn’t that, and a new striker coming in gives us options.
When he starts banging them in at training, regains his former confidence, then sure - restore him immediately. However our current reliance on him is worrying. Gyan has had several chances fall to him this season which he’s failed to tuck away, all of which I’m confident he would have done last season.