Van Aanholt - a former Vitesse Arnhem loanee - joined Sunderland late in pre-season for a fairly modest £1.5m for then manager Gus Poyet, after a supposedly glowing reference from our Director of Football Lee Congerton who had overseen the growth of the Dutchman whilst part of the youth set up at Chelsea.
He had a turbulent footballing upbringing as he was farmed out on loan to Coventry, Newcastle, Wigan and Leicester, playing an average of 11 per club during those loan periods. His move on loan to Vitesse Arnhem yielded 83 games though in total, which gave the best indication of his abilities as a professional footballer having played a consistent run of games.
After his signing Roker Report sat down with Koos Mooten of Vitesse fan site Vitesse inside to get the low down on him, and looking back at his comments on PvA, two quotes stood out to me in particular. On his defensive ability, Mooten said "Patrick van Aanholt would blossom in an attacking formation supported by solid central defenders and an anchor man on the midfield." The arrival of Jan Kirchhoff to anchor the midfield and distribute to the wide areas well and solid pairing of Kone and Kaboul really give Van Aanholt the ability to get forward, whilst not leaving too many gaps at the back. He ended the season on four league goals, all of them coming from January onwards.
Since the departure of Younes Kaboul our defence as a unit has looked lost. Lamine Kone, Jan Kirchhoff and Van Aanholt all look to be struggling without the presence of their former defensive leader. We are a million miles away from the solid, cohesive, and hard to beat Allardyce side of last season, and with Moyes still obviously undecided on his best starting eleven, it has been hard for all our our players to get into any sort of rhythm.
Van Aanholt will continually struggle to improve defensively, and his form over the last two-and-a-half seasons have shown that. Allardyce may well have gotten the best from him, but the system that we played was something that benefited him greatly. Having a hard-working left forward in front of him helped somewhat too.
One of many things Allardyce managed to change at Sunderland - towards the end, anyways - was his ability to put round pegs in round holes. No shoehorning somebody into a position they cannot play. The formation and players Big Sam had allowed players like Yedlin and Patrick to get forward, knowing they would be covered by two hard working wingers and Jan Kirchhoff and Yann M’Vila stopping any onrushing counter attacks. With this in mind, maybe Moyes should take a leaf out of his book and stop trying to fit a right back or centre back in there, and simply be done with the idea of a back four.
I have given up on the idea of the Dutch International as a full back, yet I simply cannot find a solution as to who we replace him with, at least not until January comes around. Since he knows where the net is - with six goals since January - it’s a fair argument to push him further forward if we have someone who can play the left back role behind, which we don’t. We have four international centre backs who all have their own weaknesses, so maybe a centre back three will allow the mistakes that happen to be covered by not one centre back, but two, whilst also releasing van Aanholt further up the pitch without the worry of having no left back to replace him.
In the short term, I think we need to try 5-3-2 with Patrick on left wing back duty.
Sam Allardyce changed his system around this time last year, when he saw the lack of quality in the defence and responded by simply putting more bodies in there. That formation yielded wins at Crystal Palace and at home to Stoke, with both games garnering clean sheets. We could do that again with the players we have at our disposal all playing in positions they know, whilst this would also release van Aanholt and give him opportunity to showcase his impressive attacking threat he possesses without too much worry on when he will lose his man.
It's at least worth trying, isn't it?