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INTERVIEW: French Football Expert Andrew Gibney On Kone & Khazri

Another person who knows git loads about French football is the esteemed sports journalist Andrew Gibney, and he's been very kind to sit down with @GRokerReport to talk about two of Sunderland's newest recruits from Ligue 1, Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri.

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Lamine Kone and Whabi Khazri made their Sunderland debuts against Manchester City and the home fans got a taste of what is to come from both players. Just what sort of impact do you think they'll have on our run towards the end of the season?

I think both players have enough ability in certain areas to really make an impact before the end of the season. Kone is a big, strong, physically imposing defender. He will not be afraid to get stuck in to the challenges the Premier League brings and he is also a competent defender. He definitely ticks all the boxes for you Sunderland wanted, and the level of player they would be able to attract.

Too often, in England, flair players are bought after impressing in Ligue 1, but everyone that’s actually watched them knows they are going to struggle with the style of football in England – I’m looking at you Newcastle – in Wahbi Khazri, you have got a different style of creative midfielder.

Not only is he skilful and dangerous, but he’s bullish and a strong runner. He’s not going to get muscled off the ball easily, he’s not going to shy away from a challenge, plus he, if he settles in the North-East, will make things happen.

There was moment in the game where Kone flattened Yaya Toure and left him chewing grass. Is this something we should get used to?

100% - He was a bit of a fan favourite at Lorient due to his no-nonsense, physical, fearless approach. I remember once the FCL fans hijacked a player of the month poll on FFW and he ran away with it.

He’s big and full of smiles, but I wouldn’t argue with him.

Khazri's corners were whipped in at pace at Joe Hart and you have to imagine that he'll catch someone out with that eventually. Just how consistent are his set pieces, and was it a particularly successful tool at Bordeaux?

Yeah, it was his set-pieces that caught the eye at Bastia. Free-kicks, corners, or just having a whack from distance. It was clear to see last night, Big Sam has enough faith to put him in charge from the start. Hopefully he can find some success with them.

How much did Lamine Kone play at right back for Lorient? We've heard he can play there...

Ah yes, this is what happens in the Football Manager-era…load it up, oh he can play right-back…versatile.

The last time, to my knowledge – and research – that he played right-back for Lorient was in September 2012 against Nice. Bruno Ecuele-Manga was out with a knee injury and Yoann Gourcuff was trying a couple of options in defence.

He’s only played the position about ten times in his club career. I definitely think he could do a job. He’s mobile, fairly quick…but I’d look to keep him in the centre.

Where would you say Sunderland need to play Khazri in order to get the best from him? He played mostly off the right against Manchester City but would you say that's his best position?

This could be the only issue with Khazri, trying to translate his success in France to how football is played in England. He can play all over the attacking third. Left, right, second-striker, number ten etc – but if you play him wide, in the Premier League, you have to track back, in France you really don’t. Attacking creative players are expected to stay that. Joe Cole once got told off during a Lille training session for pressing the ball in defence rather than looking to find pockets of space.

Eden Hazard has suffered the same problem for Chelsea under Mourinho. Personally, I’d play him as a No.10 behind the striker, but allow him to drift left and right, find space and link up with the other players. You really don’t want him to play in a rigid style. But, with his cracking right-foot, you can see why he’d be picked on the right-hand side.

Lamine has just turned twenty-eight this week - why do you think that nobody has taken a gamble on him before now?

Honestly, I’ve no idea. Scouts regularly watch Lorient, that’s clear from the players that have left in the past, I remember speaking to scouts from a couple of teams in the past when they asked about Ecuele-Manga…no one asked about Kone.

He’s played enough games in the top-flight to get noticed, no real serious injuries and physically he is built for the Premier League. He’s not quite at the same level as Laurent Koscielny when he left Les Merlus, but definitely worth signing.

As an aside - Sam Allardyce noted that Lamine Gassama turned down a move to Sunderland at the start of the window. It's no secret that Sam would have liked a right back - do you think he is good enough to play in the Premier League, and do you think he's an improvement on Billy Jones?

I can’t comment on Billy Jones, but I don’t think Gassama is good enough to be a success in the Premier League. I’ve no doubt there are right-backs in the league he is better than, but there will be many that he is worse than. If you are going to sign someone, you want them to be an improvement on what they already have – I would hope teams could find a better defender than Gassama.

He’s decent enough, but he’s decent enough for a team like Lorient. I can think of eleven other starting right-backs in Ligue 1 that I’d sign before Gassama.

Thanks again to Andrew for speaking to us. You can read more extensive coverage from him on Wahbi Khazri here, and more on Lamine Kone and the impact he can have at Sunderland here.

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