I’d like to preface this article by stating that I don’t believe Max Power’s challenge last weekend against Oxford warranted a red card, and that the former Wigan midfielder has been an absolutely excellent summer acquisition.
Power offers us a genuine box-to-box presence with equal parts tenacity and vision. His marauding surges forward have really enabled Sunderland to find a fifth gear on occasion, and as I noted in a recent article Power has essentially become Sunderland’s linchpin so far this campaign alongside a rejuvenated Lee Cattermole.
That being said, a rather silly challenge at the weekend was harshly judged, and, in turn, Power has been slapped with a three - technically four - match ban.
However, in a sense, one could view Power’s upcoming absence as a blessing in disguise because it offers Jack Ross the chance to tinker with his system and incorporate the incredible poise and vision of Scottish midfielder, Dylan McGeouch.
One criticism that could genuinely be levelled at Jack Ross’ side is their tendency to concede first in a game.
In every league game, bar one, Sunderland have conceded the opening goal. It could be argued that the team’s ability to subsequently push forward and either draw or win the game is a positive, but at the same time questions are beginning to be asked regarding the potential frailty of the side’s opening endeavors.
On this week’s Roker Rapport podcast it was interesting to hear the gents discussing this only real obvious weakness. Is it down to carelessness, a lack of a settled back four, or just bad luck?
Either way, something has to be done to rectify this small issue - and Max Power’s absence could give Jack Ross the opportunity to perhaps address the problem that is plaguing our side.
Dylan McGeouch’s likely inclusion as a defensive-minded, deep-lying midfielder in the place of Power could well help Sunderland’s ability to control the game from the first blast of the referee’s whistle - something we clearly haven’t been able to manage thus far.
McGeouch likely won’t offer us as much direct attacking impetus, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for this side. Throughout his career, McGeouch has played 70% of all games as a defensive midfielder - according to InStat. He doesn’t shoot very often but he certainly gets stuck in, managing to make on average 15 challenges per game with a 55% success rate - perhaps offering us the capabilities of the tenacious holding midfielder we have missed this season.
However, the major positive that McGeouch’s inclusion would provide is that of his absolutely fantastic ability to recycle and retain possession in an effective manner and from a position on the pitch that we haven’t yet seen occupied.
An impressive career average of 53 passes per game (80% completed), whilst largely occupying a defensive position at the base of midfield is just the tonic to Sunderland’s early game issues - this is something Jack Ross will likely have identified, and it will be intriguing to see if he utilizes McGeouch as a water-carrier capable of dictating play from and enabling those around him to flourish in more threatening positions.
While Luke O’Nien could well be an option in a higher midfield position, Dylan McGeouch seems the most likely candidate to replace Max Power - though perhaps not in that same box-to-box role.
Lee Cattermole has really flourished outside of his usual defensive-minded role, and Jack Ross deserves a lot of credit for that apparent transformation. Providing him with a more stable base behind him could well aid his advancement even further.
It will be interesting to see if McGeouch does make the starting XI this coming weekend against Fleetwood, for his calming presence could well be just the ticket needed in order to nullify the Joey Barton inspired battle we will likely witness this coming weekend.
Where does Power fit into the side when his ban is served? Well, Lee Cattermole could well do with a rest every now and then, and should his impressive form wane then Max Power will be waiting in the wings.
Ultimately, Sunderland have options moving forward; tinkering with our formation for the coming games could well prove to be a real astute decision. Dylan McGeouch offers the side something unique and valuable: the ability to dictate play whilst simultaneously shielding a somewhat fragile defence.
I for one can’t wait to see how Ross’ plans unfold.