Upon hearing that a number of first team fringe players would be taking part in the U21's Wear-Tees derby on Monday night, I was buoyed that I'd have another opportunity to see what January signing Kader Mangane was all about.
I first saw him play two weeks ago for the second string in their home league game against Everton U21s and I thought throughout the game that he was solid, yet unspectacular. Overall, his performance was something you'd expect from a footballer who hadn't kicked a ball in a competitive game in so long (even longer if you discount the fact he's been playing in a Middle Eastern pub league).
Being an absolute monster, Mangane was always going to dominate the aerial duels against a forward that can't have been much taller than 5"9. It was in possession, though, that he most intrigued me. He seems to prefer to carry the ball out of defence, rather than hoof it to the strikers, which many would suggest is what we need in the first team, having endured Bramble and O'Shea aimlessly hoofing the ball forward for most of the season. His passing was not quite there but the idea that he likes to play a bit pleased me, as I feel it is the main issue we need to address with our centre halves this season. They all seem to have no idea how to pass forwards out of defence, especially when it makes more sense to keep the ball after spells of pressure from the opposition.
He's also a threat from set pieces, another area I don't feel we exploit properly. The majority of the corners played into the box are shite anyways but the ones that do make it into the area are not attacked well enough and the result is that we haven't scored a header from a corner in what feels like forever. Perhaps six foot and seven inches of pure Senegalese meat can go some way to helping us improve that part of our gameplan, but I'm not sure we'll ever find out. He had one or two incidents where he outpaced an opposition forward, and he seems to cover ground fairly easily for a defender.
It's important to remember that Mangane spent a large chunk of his career as a defensive midfielder, so him wanting to pass the ball and carry it out of defence should not come as a huge surprise.
He doesn't go without fault, though. During the Everton game he was easily sidestepped for their first goal and like I mentioned before, his passing was a little wasteful, even though he was trying to be ambitious and carry it out of defence to aid any potential attacking move.
Overall, his performance in the Everton game was pleasing. He looked everything that I thought he would - powerful, good in the air, and dominating in his area. He didn't look massively better than Harrison, his partner in the defence, but he showed enough to suggest that he might be of use with some big games to come before the end of the season.
Against Middlesbrough on Monday, his performance went down in a similar fashion. He was up against Curtis Main who never won a single header against the Senegalese international but had the pace and power to run the channels later in the game, which was ultimately the responsibility of the full backs.
He seemed incredibly wasteful at times with his passing, however. Again he showed he likes to venture forward with the ball, but I don't think many of his passes found a Sunderland player. Despite that, it's pleasing to see him trying something different to the rest of the first team defenders who ultimately prefer to remove all responsibility when in possession of the ball and hoof it forward. At least Mangane seems to have the confidence to play it out from the back, something which can take a lot of pressure away from the midfield when moving up the pitch.
He showed he has the legs to cover a lot of ground again, frequently going forward and tracking back quickly and efficiently. He liked to join in the attacks and move into the box to offer an outlet for the wingers to hit with their crosses and when we lost the ball he was back in position to deal with the counter attacks. He's no Usain Bolt but he is certainly not slow.
However the difference between rating his performance as 'good' and 'poor' was his sloppy passing in the first half. It's something he'll have to work on, clearly.
Overall, I wouldn't be pulling up any trees to put him straight into the first team but there are signs that he can offer something completely different to what Titus Bramble can. He has all the presence and power that Titus does but he prefers to use the ball, pass it and do his fair share when attacking, something our defence definitely lacks. I have no doubt that a fully fit Mangane can be very useful, but with only nine games of the season left I severely doubt we will ever see him play, especially with Cuellar back fit and Bramble unmovable. As of writing we have not seen him even leave the bench to take part in a game and it wouldn't be harsh to suggest that O'Neill doesn't feel he's ready to play, which disappoints me having been so enthused by his signing in January.
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