Despite the knocks the England national team has taken over the past few months, Eric Dier's showings in the middle for his country have really impressed me, particularly in the game against Slovakia on Sunday.
With his breaking up of the play on the edge of his box combined simultaneously with his ability to orchestrate Big Sam's England attack, I realised just how big a role this position is in modern day football - when done well, it can transform a side. It was at this point I remembered how poor our admittedly injury laden central midfield had looked over the first month of the season as the big German sat out of our opening trio of matches.
John O'Shea, Patrick McNair and latterly Lynden Gooch have occupied that spot with little to no success. We went down to both Man City and Middlesbrough, before taking a point at St. Mary's with a midfield that looked horribly pedestrian at times compared to last season’s solid unit. O'Shea's contribution at Man City defensively was actually quite sound but his ball distribution was woeful at best as he gifted possession to City's attackers time and time again, inviting them on to a typical late winner. McNair on the other hand struggled immensely in our next game at home to Boro, failing to place any sort of stamp on the game. As hard as he tried, Lynden Gooch is evidently not suited to the role of enforcer, despite his impressive ball retention from every position he's filled across the middle so far this season and he would be far more suited to a role higher up the field where he can do more damage.
The core of last season’s success from January was undoubtedly built around the signings of Kirchhoff and Lamine Kone. The controversy around Kone and his mooted move to Everton has thankfully not altered his form though, as he has looked as colossal as he has consistent. He's probably been our best player and looked in great shape, barring his poorly back of course. Despite conceding in each game since the new season has begun, across the back four we've continued to look relatively decent, with Papy Dijobodji looking the part alongside our Ivorian and the highly rated Belgian Jason Denayer waiting in the wings, we’re probably as solid at the centre of defence as we have been since our promotion ten or so seasons ago.
The problem for me so far has been our utilisation of the ball when it has been won, and I think this is in no doubt to fact we've lost Kirchhoff and of course our vice-captain Lee Cattermole for the entirety of the first month of the season. In the return of the 25-year-old against Everton on Monday, we gain not only our best midfielder back in the starting 11, but the only player in the squad to win the ball in the edge of our own D and have the ability to start one of our own attacks with one sublime pass.
These types of player are more known in the successful sides the league have for this very ability to turn defence into attack. N'Golo Kante at Chelsea, Danny Drinkwater at Leicester and as mentioned earlier Eric Dier at Tottenham are all absolutely pivotal in their teams strive for success. Sunderland are absolutely no different. In Jan Kirchhoff we also have one of the league’s best in that role. He competes with all those names above. Don't let our poor league position tell you any different. If he'd had a consistent level of fitness over the past few years, let's admit it, he wouldn't even be anywhere near our squad - the man is sheer quality.
In his return we not only strengthen our defence but our entire outfit. He’s really that good that his fitness is the difference between us struggling around the bottom four or finishing comfortably mid-table. I genuinely believe that and think it will come to show at the end of the season. His return to the side on Monday could be a real kick start to our campaign and I’m confident we'll get the three points if he starts.
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