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Sunderland's slow and ponderous midfield needs a makeover, so who goes?

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Sunderland's midfield lacks goals, pace and enthusiasm and is in desperate need of a makeover, so who should we be looking to move along in the summer to make way for fresh blood?

Sunderland v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

I should probably preface this piece by just clarifying that I don't honestly believe that the club will retain the services of Steven Pienaar, Sebastian Larsson, Jan Kirchhoff or Jason Denayer beyond the end of their current contracts, which all run out come the end of the current campaign; all are players who have at some point this season played through the middle for Sunderland in the Premier League.

Whilst Kirchhoff's ability and quality on the ball goes without saying, his questionable injury history makes handing him a new contract a risk and I don't believe we should be taking many of those going forward - you could argue that part of the reason we find ourselves in such a mess financially is because we invest time and money in the wrong type of player, and ensuring that our squad next season is filled with fitter and more reliable options is what will see us run as a far smoother - and hopefully successful - operation.

So, working off the assumption that David Moyes will not retain the services of any of the aforementioned players, that leaves us with five current first team central midfielders going into next season - and that's before we take players like Ethan Robson, George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch and Elliot Embleton into account, impressive youngsters who will most certainly be given some opportunity to play their part in the Championship.

Sunderland v Everton: Premier League 2 Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

And lets be honest, the current gaggle of central midfielders that we have at the club lack an amount of basic attributes that we need to go some way to resolving in the summer - whilst top flight experience is preferable, it is not essential, and adding pace, goals and energy to the centre of the park will be what is key to us either doing well or just treading water in what is an incredibly tough league.

That leaves David Moyes with some important decisions to make - which of that band of misfits should we be moving on in order to breathe new life into Sunderland's lethargic midfield?


Darron Gibson

Darron Gibson arrived on Wearside this past January to very little fanfare and his performances since joining the club have been underwhelming to say the least - there is clearly a very talented and gifted footballer in there, but his legs gave up on him a long time ago and it shows.

The pace of the Premier League is vicious, and if you are a midfielder in a lower-half team you are often expected to spend the majority of the ninety minutes pressing and winning back the ball, tasks which simply do not suit Gibson's style whatsoever.

That said, when Sunderland arrive in the Championship the expectation for us to dominate games will be far greater than at any point in the last ten years, and this is perhaps where Gibson can come into his own. We've seen already this season that the likes of Jonjo Shelvey - a player similar to Gibson in style - can thrive in that type of situation when allowed more time on the ball, and I feel that the ex-Manchester United man might just show his worth when his job role alters more to his taste in a less intense league.

Verdict: Keep - Gibson should be able to thrive in a more possession-based system.


Lee Cattermole

Lee Cattermole is admired by the majority of Sunderland supporters for many of the same reasons that old-timers like Kevin Ball and John Kay still are to this day - he's a throwback; a real leader who loves a meaty tackle and isn't scared to muck in and do the dirty work. On Wearside we love nothing more than a player that we can see is leaving every drop of sweat out on the pitch, and in an era where Sunderland have been completely mistreated by mercenaries that play like they are doing us a favour, Cattermole has consistently been able to stand out from the rest.

He's never played outside of the top flight, and with good reason. Cattermole, on his day, runs games from midfield - though, sadly, those days are on the wane due to his increasing issues with injuries. As fantastic as Lee Cattermole is, he's no use to us if he's spending more time on the treatment table than on the football pitch.

Leicester City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

This, combined with the fact we are strapped for cash and need to reinvest in our playing squad, leaves David Moyes with a huge dilemma. Lee Cattermole will no doubt attract interest from Premier League clubs if he is made available for transfer, and with the money raised we could invest in a younger player who still has their best years ahead of them. It's a fine balance - do we signal a new era at the club properly by moving on the stalwarts of the last decade, or do we keep them around in the hope that their leadership and experience helps us to get out of the Championship at the first time of asking?

Verdict: Keep - Our young squad will need a wise head or two around to guide them.


Paddy McNair

Having started life at Sunderland fairly slowly, Paddy McNair was just beginning to get into his stride when injury befell him against Hull City in November.

Having been trialed in a number of roles across the midfield it was in an advanced central position that he was just starting to show his true ability, helping to anchor the play between Patrick van Aanholt and Victor Anichebe down our left flank.

In all fairness, this is a no-brainer. McNair is just 22 years old and has a bright career ahead of him - you don't make your Manchester United first team debut at the age of nineteen if you lack ability. After almost half a season out, McNair should return a much fitter and mentally-ready player with capabilities that suit the Championship.

Verdict: Keep - He was signed with the future in mind and his best years ahead of him.


Jack Rodwell

If one player could be spotlighted as the epitome of everything that Sunderland have done wrong during the Ellis Short era, it is Jack Rodwell - an investment of ten million pounds with absolutely nothing but a relegation to show for it.

It may be difficult to fathom, but Rodwell is just 26 years of age. Technically he's at his peak age as a footballer and having played for Everton, Manchester City and England you would expect that he would be an incredible asset to any side operating within the second tier.

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

The issue here is Rodwell himself - he's racked with self-doubt over his own ability to stay fit having experienced many issues when starting out in the professional game, something which has manifested to this point. I'm led to believe from friends well connected with the club that Rodwell doesn't even particularly enjoy or want to be a footballer, and his love and hunger for the sport has long since gone. It's evident in every game that he plays - he's an undoubtedly talented player, but his inability to raise his energy levels and impart himself during grueling battles has seen a once promising midfielder descend into becoming a laughing stock amongst the Sunderland supporters and the wider football community.

Would anyone even want to take him off our hands, taking his wages, fee and all that I have said above into account? I honestly doubt it. Even if we want to sell him I fear we're stuck with him for the remainder of his contract - which, by the way, still has two more years left to run.

Verdict: Sell - Would anyone take him? If the answer is yes, we need to cut our losses.


Didier Ndong

Whilst widespread anger at the fact we paid a handsome fee to bring him to Sunderland is not quite as prevalent as it once was, there are still many supporters who aren't quite sold on Didier Ndong - and in truth, I'm not entirely sure why.

Despite his age, lack of experience, the language barrier and the fact that he's played almost every game in a struggling side where his midfield partners have rotated around him on an weekly basis counting against him, Didier Ndong has thrived in the Premier League. I honestly believe that over the course of the entire season he has been Sunderland's most consistent player.

He never shirks or goes hiding like some of his midfield counterparts so often do; he shows for the ball, has hunger and energy in droves and above all else shows desire even when we are behind in games. In all honesty, he's an incredible asset to this football club and there really should be no argument about whether or not we keep him - we just have to hope that no other club sees the potential in him that I do. He's destined for a successful top flight career and we just have to hope that his best years are spent here and not elsewhere.

Verdict: Keep - It's honesty a no-brainer. He's our best midfielder and should stay.