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Five Things We Learned From Real Betis Victory

What can we take from last night's 2-0 victory over Spanish side Real Betis?

Richard Sellers

1. Valentin Roberge may yet still have something to offer.

When Valentin Roberge said earlier this week that his future plans were to fight for his place at Sunderland, he did much to back up his claims for a spot in Gus Poyet's squad last night as he put in a performance worthy of a special mention, one which the  will have taken as a major positive.

I've always felt that Valentin is at his worst when he has to deal with a serious physical presence - last night he wasn't really tested by a 'bustling' forward - but he looked very comfortable on the ball and some of his long passing, in to feet, was lovely to watch. I'd be tempted to start him again on Saturday, as having to deal with the experience and guile of Antonio Di Natalie will be a good test of where he is at.

Hopefully he's learned alot after a tough first season here, where he was never really given a regular place in the side. Plying his trade alongside two of the most experienced defenders in this league in Wes Brown and John O'Shea will no doubt be of massive benefit to the Frenchman. His hope, at least, will be that Gus Poyet chooses to stick by him instead of bringing in another defender to replace him. Let's see.

2. The future is bright with Jack Rodwell in our team.

Despite obviously lacking some match fitness and it being his first game with his new team mates Jack Rodwell shone in the opening forty-five minutes and I can't wait to see what more is to come from him as we look towards the Premier League.

Rodwell instantly attempted to impose himself on the game and, although the diminutive Betis midfield played the ball around nicely, they struggled to break us down due to the good work of Jack and his partner in crime Liam Bridcutt, who also had a very good game playing in front of the back four.

It was nice to see a Sunderland midfielder that does the simple stuff, like make late runs into the box and get himself into a shooting position. Rodwell is far from at his best but the signs last night were positive ones. If we can get another proven and top class midfielder in there with him and Lee Cattermole we might just be on to something.

3. Fletcher should be first choice - for now.

Last season was, lets face it, a total write off for Steven Fletcher. He was barely fit, missed most of pre-season and even when he was playing he looked disinterested and off the pace. Disappointingly, it was a far cry from the level of performance that we'd seen from him in the season before.

I can't really speak for how Fletcher played out in Portugal as I wasn't there but, from what I have seen of him on these shores in the games that we've played in the North East, I would like to think he's started this term with a clean slate. He looks fitter than he ever has at Sunderland - presumably after undertaking his very first pre-season in a number of years - and looks motivated again. The game last night looked headed for a nil-nil draw with neither side really opening up the other and Fletcher took it upon himself to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and played a huge part in both of the goals which sealed the win.

With Connor Wickham's future up in the air and, with both Congerton and Poyet expressing that we need to build this season by utilising players with proven Premier League experience, it makes sense that a sharp and confident Fletcher should be the one to lead our line in the game against West Brom.

4. Mavrias has earned his chance to start against West Brom.

It was a real shame when Emanuele Giaccherini had to leave the field with a groin injury as he'd played very well, linking up down the left hand side with Patrick van Aanholt on a number of occasions to exploit their right full back.

The fear, at least short term, is that he's going to miss the West Brom game, which leaves Gus in a precarious position as he now needs to work out who will play in the season opener at the Hawthorns. Even if we did sign Fabio Borini in time he wouldn't be fit enough to play, meaning Poyet either has to look elsewhere in the transfer market or within the squad he has at his disposal.

Gus toyed with playing both Jordi Gomez and Connor Wickham out on the left flank throughout the second half at Heritage Park last night. Seb Larsson has played out there for us before and it's a way of fitting him into the side whilst also playing his strongest three central midfielders, of which I don't feel the Swede is a part of.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that it's a great opportunity to give Charis Mavrias an chance to prove that he's an asset to this squad. Although he's enjoyed a positive pre-season campaign and has been given plenty of minutes on the pitch in the majority of the games that we have played, he's played the mostly as a right back in order to cover for injuries or lack of options.

What Gus will get from Mavrias if he is afforded the opportunity to start on the wing is genuine pace, directness, hard work and good defensive cover. I'd argue that, with Giaccherini injured, he's probably the best option we have at present. Hopefully he'll start on the left against Udinese this Saturday so that we can see more of what he can offer against some quality opposition.

5. The Spanish don't like it up 'em.


If the Real Betis players and coaching staff spent more time honing their attacking play instead of moaning about just about every decision that went against them then they'd probably not have been relegated from La Liga last season, because they actually look quite a tidy footballing side with a solid back line.

I was impressed with the way they moved the ball around in the first half but it was totally offset by their diving antics, constant harassment of the referee and their overboard psychotic coach who belted just about every water bottle in frustration at not getting what he wanted.

When Lee Cattermole was introduced in the second half he knew exactly what he was doing as he went straight through their most effective player within the first minute. It instantly riled the Spaniards and they stopped focusing on what they were doing well, which played into our hands as we finished them off with ease.

Someone should have reminded them it was only a pre-season friendly.

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