As a young player making his first big strides into the professional game, Leon Dajaku is nowhere near the finished product, but, you have to admit that recently his performances have seriously improved - quite the achievement when you remember he’s been asked to play in an unfamiliar position often recently.
There was good news earlier this afternoon when Jamie McAllister revealed that the Union Berlin loanee’s injury which he picked up against Oxford isn’t serious, and he should be fit to play against Doncaster on Monday - good timing, given Nathan Broadhead is set for a spell on the sidelines, and we now have two left-backs fit and ready to feature.
For me, Dajaku is the perfect replacement for Broadhead up top - the most natural of all our current forward options, in fact.
The most pleasing part of his game that I’ve seen so far this season is his finishing. When he gets into good positions, he’s very capable of sticking the ball away, and his return is decent considering he hasn’t started a lot of games.
Combine that with his electric pace, ability to press off the ball and his dribbling technique, and I think the most obvious replacement for Broadhead - short-term at least - is staring us in square in the face.
I know we have Aidan O’Brien and Benji Kimpioka available, but I think I’ve seen enough from them both to know they probably aren’t going to be able to match what Broadhead has offered to Sunderland’s team recently - yes, they both work hard, and yes, Benji has plenty of pace, but I don’t think either of them are the goal-threat that Dajaku is.
It has been tough for Lee Johnson to pick a balanced, consistent side recently, and the injury list we have is massive. But, the return to fitness of Dennis Cirkin and Denver Hume at least means we can get full-backs into their most natural positions - chiefly Cirkin, who has the quality at this level to be a real game-changer. I’m actually pretty excited to see what he can do playing over a run of games at wing-back, because I reckon it’ll suit him.
That means, providing he and Hume stay fit, we shouldn’t need Dajaku to play there.
Lynden Gooch can move across to the right-hand side, leaving Johnson with two choices - he either sticks with the five at the back that has served him well recently, or he goes back to playing with a back four.
If he sticks with a back five, he can stick Dajaku alongside Stewart and maintain that solid forward line which is backed up by Alex Pritchard, the wing-backs, and the pairing of Dan Neil and Carl Winchester in the middle of the park.
If we elect to go with four at the back, I actually think in doing so we’re exposing Dajaku’s lack of defensive ability. There’s more reliance on him to cover for the full-back behind him, and we’ve seen already this season that we concede daft goals when we ask him to do that job. I’m not putting all of the blame on him of course, but we can easily solve that by asking him to play through the middle, where his main job defensively will be to press defenders and harass them when they’ve got the ball - something he’s actually very good at.
The other issue - the elephant in the room, really - is that Ross Stewart isn’t scoring enough goals. I’m positive that he’ll ride through it, but we also have to find a way to replace Broadhead’s goals, and that’s going to be tough. Again, the best option is staring at us in the face - that is until we sign another forward or two during the January window.
I’m really confident in my belief that this could work, and I can’t think of a better opponent to try it out against than Doncaster, who are in woeful form and have defenders who concede goals for fun. I’m sure they won’t fancy an afternoon trying to contain Dajaku and Stewart, both of whom you can guarantee will put in a big shift and make them work hard.
I just wonder if this is something Lee Johnson is considering too.
He knows better than anyone about the strengths and weaknesses of this squad, but for me, playing Leon Dajaku through the middle up front is an absolute no-brainer!