Gav - Has To Be Jan The Man!
Please don't get me wrong - I really do like Jason Denayer, and I think that he's done a fine job since coming into the Sunderland midfield. But - yes, but - it still doesn't hide the fact that he is, much like Steven Pienaar, a square peg in a round hole.
I realise that Jan Kirchhoff kind of took a similar path last season but I feel that whilst Sunderland have shown a slight improvement over the course of November in midfield, it still remains to be the weakest part of our team.
And that doesn't mean I'm pinning the blame on any one player - I just feel that we need to now look to bring in more experienced, proven and steady players who we know can do a job there. If we do that, we'll see further improvements in our results.
Jan Kirchhoff and Sebastian Larsson are both back in full training and have both completed games for the U23s side, so you would imagine that they'll both be available for selection this weekend.
So, in that instance, some might point to the fact that we should just drop other players - namely Steven Pienaar and/or Dider Ndong.
So whilst it may seem unfair dropping a player that hasn't actually done badly, lets not forget that Denayer is, in the main, a central defender on loan from another club and that we are a team sat bottom of the league that need to go back to basics. If we have quality players fit they simply have to play, otherwise we'll be sat here in May wondering how it all went wrong.
I wouldn't mind seeing how Denayer would fair alongside John O'Shea in the centre of our defence, with his pace and intelligence complimenting what O'Shea adds to the pairing. Lets be honest, Lamine Kone would benefit from a spell out of the side and rocket up his arse.
Kirchhoff's fitness has been a huge issue but we had the same worries when he arrived in January, and through persistence we managed to get him to start games and become effective. Dictating the tempo of the match on Saturday will, in my opinion, be the key to us winning, and with that in mind we simply cannot afford to have Jan Kirchhoff sat on the side watching.
Tom - Denayer Keeps His Place!
Jan Kirchhoff’s influence on the team last season was clear for all to see. His calming manner, breaking up the play and being the smooth jazz to Lee Cattermole’s Cannibal Corpse thrash metal style of football brought a nice balance to the side. However, this season Jason Denayer has stepped in to provide a more than adequate replacement to the big German and recent performances have shown that he can take on Kirchhoff’s mantle.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of handsome Jan as much as the next person but there is a major overriding issue with the former Bayern Munich man - he simply can’t stay fit for long stretches of a a season. The last campaign was somewhat of an anomaly in the midfielder’s recent career, it marked the first time he had completed 15 or more league games since 2013.
Alongside his injury worries this campaign, he has looked a shadow of the player he first got into his stride following his January move. While we all know how good he can be he has failed to live up to those heights thus far. Wayward passing, a reluctance shoot which has bordered on comical at times and a lack of concentration (leaving Christian Benteke for Crystal Palace’s third still infuriates me now) highlight how far he has fallen since just last May.
While Kirchhoff’s return would no doubt be a boost, it would be extremely harsh to drop Denayer following a string of impressive games. The Belgian international has had somewhat of a shaky start at Sunderland looking thoroughly unconvincing at full back but has seemingly found his home in the defensive midfield role shielding the back four.
The games against both Hull City and Liverpool he provided a reassuring influence in the defensive line. He helped to mop up loose balls and, in the case of the Hull match, a key outlet when hitting the Tigers on the break. However, it was performance against the Reds that highlighted his defensive qualities.
Clearly sent out with the instruction of handling Philippe Coutinho, the Brazilian was closely marshalled by Denayer and was able to match his speed and trickery. The only time the Liverpool forward did escape the Belgian’s attentions, he was clattered by Didier Ndong thus ending his game.
It showed that Denayer is a strong, powerful player like Kirchhoff but also has the pace to stay with the quicker forwards in the league. Especially with, albeit an out of form, Leicester City arriving at the weekend and continually looking to counter attack I feel it is crucial Denayer stays in the team. Soz, Jan.
Rory - Start Them Both!
If they're fit, our best players have to start. We're not good enough to get by without their quality, for long stretches of time. In the second half of last season, Jan Kirchhoff made us tick in the midfield and we all know how instrumental he was in keeping us up. While Jason Denayer has performed well in the same role, in the last two games, having The Hoff alongside him can only be a help and not a hindrance.
People may suggest having both Kirchhoff and Denayer in the same midfield is too defensive, but I'd disagree. How many times last season did our German maestro carry the ball forward and create chances? Both players press the ball really well and if they can get the opportunity to do that further up the pitch, it can only be a good thing. Also, Kirchhoff's pin point long passes will be perfect for a player like Victor Anichebe. So if Denayer or Ndong are being a bit more conservative in possession, it's good to know we have someone in the middle who isn't afraid to go direct.
When Jermain Defoe spoke on Goals On Sunday he alluded to how David Moyes has tried to implement a Spanish style possession based game. You may not want to do that for the whole game against Leicester, who thrive on less possession, but, like it or not, there'll be periods where we'll need to slow the game down. Especially if we're winning. Having two players in the middle who you know you can rely on to not give the ball away, whilst also safe in the knowledge they're equally adept at winning it back, is very good indeed. It means we can counter quickly when required but also control things, when we see fit.
With both Kirchhoff and Denayer together, they can alternate who goes forward and who stays back - meaning they don't just have to focus on defensive duties. It will give our full backs, who are strong going forward, added licence to push on, as they know they'll be covered. So when Anichebe is dragging players out of position with his hold up play, there's even more Sunderland players bombing on into the vacated space.
Selecting both of them won't just have a positive effect in the midfield but it will benefit the whole team.