Speaking before the Swansea defeat, Gus Poyet stated the need for a regular, strong back four. "I like my defensive unit to be consistent so we know each other so well that we can help each other". But after conceding twenty goals from the opening eight games, just what are Sunderland’s best options at the back?
At right back, there aren’t a great deal of options, but that hasn’t been too problematic for Sunderland so far. While Craig Gardner covered there for the majority of last season, starting twenty-six out of his thirty-six appearances there in all competitions, he wasn’t the ideal choice. Picking up a total of ten yellow cards, as well as one red in the key relegation clash against Stoke, Gardner always looked somewhat of a liability at right-back, and conceded needless penalties against West Brom and Fulham last year, and Swansea already this year. His preferred position is without doubt his best, playing in the middle of the park.
After the drama of the summer-long Gino Peruzzi chase, the loan signing of Ondrej Celustka was little to shout about. The Czech became our tenth summer signing, and finally ended our full back curse. Signed five days before the big kick off against Fulham, the defender has been arguably the stand-out signing so far along with Giaccherini. When given the chance, Celustka has looked threatening going forward, or as threatening as a team with just five Premier League goals to their name can be, and it was his pull-back in the cup game against MK Dons that gave Wickham the equaliser.
As for left back, Jack Colback is the obvious option. The failure to re-sign Danny Rose left many fans disappointed, and Andrea Dossena always looked like being back-up to Colback. Useful to cover, but a lot of goals have leaked from his side of the pitch already this year. However, without a doubt Jack is fans first choice for left back.
Phil Bardsley was never going to be given the best of receptions from fans, and the own-goal and miss against Swansea, no matter how unlucky, will do nothing to change that. Poyet gave him another chance against Swansea and may well stick with him for Newcastle. Sunderland need a bit of fight and Bardsley does have it in his locker, but just don’t expect a warm welcome back.
Now centre back is where the main problems are.
John O’Shea has been the weak link in the defence too often this year, costing us against Crystal Palace and Manchester United among others. He was barely the leader on the pitch before the return of Cattermole and now just seems to be wearing the armband for a laugh.
Diakite has been fairly strong at the back, and is a physical presence amongst one of the smallest squads in the league, which could be useful to try and stop the steady stream of goals from set-pieces. Poyet also spoke last week about communication, saying "with one word, we know where we are". Diakite speaks little English, a problem Di Canio highlighted. However, the French centre back could potentially link up well with Roberge, his countryman. After the opening day defeat to Fulham, Roberge has started to grasp English football, slowly, looking better every game, except Swansea of course, but only Westwood came away with any credit from that.
There is no worse centre back pairing throughout the Premier League, and probably any league, than O’Shea and Carlos Cuellar. Both are slow, clumsy, and terrified when face with young, moderately-fast strikers, and were torn apart against Liverpool, as well as numerous times last year.
Finally, the forgotten man: Wes Brown. Twenty-one months since his last competitive appearance, if he can find the form from the Barclays Asia trophy, Sunderland may just have a saviour. It’s a big ask for someone with an injury record as long as his, but a fully fit Wes Brown can be one of the best defenders outside the top four.
"If they don’t do what we need, then you maybe give someone else a chance" stated Poyet last week about his defenders. A 4-0 defeat at Swansea was far from what we need, so will he change it for the derby? Wes Brown is reported to be close to a comeback for the derby, so he may slot in alongside O’Shea, or even instead of his former United teammate.
Personally, I’d go with Brown-Roberge or Diakite-Roberge depending on his fitness, but whoever starts on Sunday, we need a clean sheet.
Reece Hanson - @RGHanson93