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Oviedo Baby! Former Everton full back excels on Sunderland debut - Performance analysis

Is this what having a proper left back feels like?

Crystal Palace v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

As Crystal Palace's big-money defender struggled to make an impact against his former team, his direct replacement wasted no time in endearing himself to his new supporters with a fine performance.

Bryan Oviedo came to Wearside as somewhat of an unknown quantity, despite this season being his fifth in England. With only 50 Premier League games to his name, the majority of those as a substitute, fans could be forgiven for not knowing a great deal about the new arrival. But the Costa Rican needed just 90 minutes to make Sunderland fans forget their former man as he put in a near-perfect display on debut.

As far as first impressions go, only a goal would have seen Oviedo make a better one. But that would have been the cherry on top of an already delicious cake. He was brought in to defend, first and foremost, and he carried out that duty superbly as Sunderland romped to a vital 4-0 win at Selhurst Park.

Crystal Palace v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

On paper, Oviedo faced a difficult task in keeping the in-form Wilfried Zaha quiet, particularly considering the fact that he had last played for Everton in early November. But, in the words of Ian Wright, Oviedo "bottled up" the Ivorian and saw him endure a miserable afternoon down the right wing. Palace's tactics were quite simple - get the ball wide and look to cross for Christian Benteke. But Oviedo simply did not allow that to happen, making an impressive five tackles on Zaha alone.

In fact, Oviedo's total of seven tackles was the most in the Premier League all weekend. He also contributed a respectable six clearances as Sunderland recorded back-to-back clean sheets.

With cover from Jason Denayer in the five-man defence, Zaha was unable to cut inside to link with Benteke. As a result, Oviedo was able to keep Zaha wide, and the Ivorian increasingly dropped deeper as he looked to get on the ball, visibly frustrated by his lack of space.

The image below provides a perfect example of this, with Oviedo pushing Zaha back before dropping off and easily heading the ball away. It's important to note how Oviedo presses. He's not too eager to win the ball and remains goalside, simply doing enough to restrict Zaha's space.

Oviedo drops off Zaha to occupy the space and heads clear

But that doesn't mean that Oviedo wasn't aggressive. Rather, he knew when to press the ball and when to drop deeper and form a rigid defensive line, demonstrating good intelligence and tactical understanding. The heat and tackle maps below show how Oviedo pressed and looked to win the ball high up the pitch without abandoning his duties towards his own goal.

Oviedo did such a great job of stopping Zaha that Palace all but abandoned attacking down his wing in the second half. The arrival of Andros Townsend at half time saw him attack Billy Jones at will, and it's telling that Zaha's only significant take-ons were completed down Palace's left.

Locked down by Oviedo, Zaha eventually found some dribbling success against Billy Jones

Sunderland's performance on Saturday was a superb display of counter-attacking football. Built on a resolute and solid back-line, they were able to turn defence into attack at speed, tearing Palace apart. And while Adnan Januzaj deserves huge credit for his part in Sunderland's counters, Oviedo's defensive actions actually set them in motion.

Firstly, he intercepted a lobbed pass from Jason Puncheon (see above) with a cushioned header to Didier Ndong. From here, Sunderland attacked and Januzaj won the free kick from which Lamine Kone opened the scoring - conceded by Patrick van Aanholt, no less, to rub salt into the wounds.

Then, Oviedo superbly dispossessed Joel Ward as the Palace man looked to get to the byline, setting in motion the counter that would see Defoe scoring his first.

Oviedo superbly dispossesses Ward

The third example is the most impressive, however, as Oviedo showed great pace and anticipation to dispossess Zaha on the half way line.

Oviedo races back to dispossess Zaha

Following the sale of van Aanholt, some fans questioned how Sunderland would replace his attacking contribution, particularly after the failure to secure a striker before the window closed. And while people say, as the old adage goes, "attack is the best form of defence," Sunderland showed that the statement can be reversed. Sunderland were able to attack because of their solid defence, and Oviedo was a big part of that.

He knew when it was the right time to attack and when he needed to defend, unlike his predecessor. It seems like more than a coincidence that Sunderland have recorded back-to-back clean sheets since van Aanholt departed. If Oviedo can contribute responsibly in attack then that will represent a welcome bonus for David Moyes. For now, Oviedo needs to show that he can defend as strongly as he did against Palace on a consistent basis.

A solid defence in this system means that the midfield and forward players can give greater focus to their attacking play, as opposed to babysitting the defence, as was often the case with van Aanholt in the side. The fact that three of Sunderland's four goals began with an Oviedo intervention is a testament to that.

Oviedo's lung-busting run allows Januzaj time to shoot on goal

Oviedo's move to Sunderland was one that was good for all parties involved. Everton removed the player from the wage bill, Oviedo gets the opportunity to play and establish himself as a Premier League starter, while Moyes is reunited with a hungry player with a point to prove that he obviously trusts and believes in. His arrival provides Sunderland with the natural balance on the left wing that Javier Manquillo cannot, and allows Sunderland to continue to line-up in the 5-3-2 set-up that has brought four points from the last two games.

And while Sunderland fans, perhaps more than anyone else, know not to make rash initial judgments, Oviedo's superb debut performance should inspire confidence and excitement that he can make a real difference in the fight against relegation.