The opening game of the season has proven one thing, a move in the transfer market for alternative, decent competition at full back may be essential; because Sunderland simply can’t tolerate another left back horror show like that seen on Saturday which worryingly mirrors the first half of last season.
Despite our deep set reservation, most of us became moderate fans of Patrick van Aanholt by the end of last term. But, it took an enormous swing in form from Sunderland’s left back to do so; because this time last year, right up until about Christmas time he was appalling.
If I was David Moyes, I really would not take a chance on a repeat and I would be identifying a left back in the ever growing list of priorities in my transfer dealings come Monday morning.
I’m not just jumping on a bandwagon and screaming blame at PVA, I just don’t consider the form that he appears to slump in to dare be repeated. If he’s a player who starts each season ‘cold’, then we just don’t have the margins to watch performances like that again. Because, make no mistake – under Dick Advocaat, Patrick van Aanholt was appalling; and the stench lingered long in to the Allardyce era.
Not all of it was his fault perhaps; Dick pushed his full backs so far up the pitch as to be playing with a defensive line made up of only two bodies – the centre backs. But, van Aanholt was sure poor during the early part of last season’s slog. His positional sense and tendency to switch off when not 100% focussed are scary.
Yesterday’s opener contained a clumsy tackle which gave away a needless penalty and immediately put Sunderland on the back foot and PVA was as culpable for City’s winner as Paddy McNair. He failed to do anything up against Jesus Navas and allowed the Spaniard to fizz in a delicious ball across the goalmouth by showing him onto his favoured right foot.
Admittedly, Moyes will be livid watching the replay because no Sunderland shirt was doubling up on Navas as he bombed into the box, meaning when PVA showed him on to his stronger side, no one was there to pick up the other option; end result – exposure.
City played much of their forward facing football down the flanks on Saturday which puts Sunderland at a heightened state of panic when the full backs aren’t performing; and the left back wasn’t performing with the ball either. Only West Brom played less football down their left side than Sunderland in this weekend’s round of games according to the stats-fest that is whoscored.com; and the reason for that is only because Tony Pulis likes his full backs to be central defenders – Johnny Evans played left back for the Baggies on Saturday so he wasn’t going to be bombing down the flank now was he.
All of this basically means, if Sunderland are going to play with fullbacks whose attacking threat compensates for their defensive weaknesses; those self-same fullbacks really need to be offering something. Against City, van Aanholt offered little other than two or three critical mistakes. If his upturn in performance last season was due to Sam Allardyce’s intensive defensive coaching, then we may well be in for a few more weeks of this liability yet.
So, Moyes has two options faced with this one – first, scour the market for a new left back; second fix the problem on the pitch. That means providing PVA with a surrounding tactic of cock-up mitigation. It means a fellow defender in his ear keeping him right, a holding midfielder covering for him and probably Whabi Khazri starting on the left, whose work rate can compensate for the Dutchman’s tendency to switch off.
Don’t forget – van Aanholt was roughly in Sunderland’s top three mechanisms of attacking threat last season. But, if we’re going to utilise that potency, we need an entourage around him to make it work. Where Sunderland suffered from the defensive weakness of their full backs last campaign, PVA and DeAndre Yedlin, at least from January onwards Jan Kirchoff was adept at sweeping up their bloopers.
There’s some hint that Moyes has been pondering his options at left back. Last week he was linked with a move for Dennis Aogo of Schalke or Nicolas Lombaerts of Zenit St Petersberg. Both players are left footed and both possess some versatility – Aogo can play at full back, wing back or midfield; Lombaerts centre or left back.
Certainly Sunderland need some cover here; competition to keep van Aanholt on his toes and offer a steadier option. Having a left back who is a luxury is one dangerous game.
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