Bowers - Kone!
The Lamine Kone saga has been an interesting one, hasn’t it?
His performances in the first-half of the season have been indifferent to say the least, but he’s a still a very good no-nonsense defender. His ability to read the game well, intercept and just clear the ball is so vital for Sunderland. All of that sounds simplistic on paper but when was the last time we had a centre-half who could do that?
You could make a fair argument that he’s missing Younes Kaboul but he’s still the best central defender we’ve got at the club in my opinion.
You’d work on the assumption that we won’t sign another central defender in January, so that would leave us with just Jason Denayer and John O’Shea as potential candidates to fill that void.
Denayer's performances have been mixed at times this season but he seems to be playing better in the defensive midfield role that he's occupied recently.
O’Shea is probably the most reliable and dependable candidate but we’ve constantly tried to move away from using him in recent years. I have nothing against having him at the club because I think his experience and presence is a good thing. But as good a leader as he is, his age and lack of pace really worries me.
Aside from the first teamers, we have George Brady and Michael Ledger in our U23s side but to throw either youngster in to a Premier League game would be a huge ask.
Kone’s attitude may be called into question since the summer but his recent performances have slowly but surely got back to the level we all come to expect from him.
He will still be a miss when he’s away.
Simon - Ndong!
We haven’t seen Didier Ndong since Saturday and I miss him already; but to go without our most expensive signing ever for potentially a whole month? That brings up a whole lot of many concerns.
Think about it. Okay, Ndong is not a top-class central midfielder just yet - he’s 22 years old and has some way to go, sure. But Jan Kirchhoff? Crocked. Lee Cattermole? Done for. Patrick McNair? Not ready. Steven Pienaar? Liability. Jack Rodwell? Urgh.
With perhaps the exception of Jason Denayer and (only just) Sebastian Larsson, nobody comes close to replicating what Didier Ndong is providing at Sunderland.
Admittedly, Ndong is limited in what does – but does what he can do well. His forward passing, shots on goal and ambitious attacking play – of which he was regarded for in Ligue 1 – were shelved while the player adjusted to the intensity of the Premier League. Instead, we’ve seen a young player who has resorted to playing safe with side passes and who is only recently returning to his more aggressive stance he became known for at FC Lorient.
Is it any coincidence that Sunderland’s better performances have come at the same time as Ndong’s own ascent in form? The midfielder is starting to suss this league out and it’s allowed him to play at a pace he’s more familiar with – his! Now, those very few strengths that Ndong has are becoming more apparent, and he is using them to contribute effectively and positively.
Is he going to hit every forward pass successfully? No. Will he get a red card soon?Definitely. But that all comes from his own determination to improve and achieve, and that will only prove to be a good thing for Sunderland. Also, that’s a lot of energy you’re not going to see from other midfielders.
But, for a couple of weeks, all that positive effort is not going to be around; and sadly, from what we’ve seen so far, his potential substitutes are only capable of producing regressive alternatives.
Finally, the greater concern for Sunderland supporters should be the uncertainty of how long we will be without Ndong.
This year, the African Cup of Nations is hosted by Gabon – the midfielder’s home nation. And what a boost that could prove to be for Ndong and his team-mates. ‘Les Panthères’ aren’t historically all that successful in this tournament, but the home advantage may just take Gabon all the way through to the early weeks of February. Should Gabon overcome Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Guina-Bissau in the group stages, we will already have to make do without Ndong for the second half of January.
While the AFCON is relatively brief against the long stretch of a Premier League season, even one match without Didier Ndong could potentially break the rise in consistency the midfielder has brought to Sunderland lately. And while we do have options available to replace him, the issue for David Moyes may be in trying to replicate the good work Ndong has brought so far, not to mention ensuring that these below-par alternatives don’t drag the team into the kinds of calamity we saw earlier in the season.