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Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship

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Roker Roundtable: “Is Abdoullah Ba close to coming into contention for a Sunderland start?”

The young Frenchman has impressed in his substitute appearances so far, but can he force his way into our starting eleven?

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Gav says…

We talked about this a bit on the podcast we recorded on Sunday, and my thoughts were that it’s a matter of time before we see him.

From what I’ve seen, it just seems like he’s got ‘it’, whatever that is.

I said he reminds me a little bit of Alfred N’Diaye, which probably seems a strange comparison but bear with me!

You arguably have to look back to the days of N’Diaye when we last had a central midfielder who was both physically imposing but also very good at carrying the ball. He’s a proper box-to-box player and we’ve not had many of those over the years at Sunderland, strangely.

I could be totally wrong about him - and that’s likely, given that I’ve seen about half an hour of him and I’m certainly prone to getting carried away - but I think he is completely different to anything else we’ve got, and that makes him very valuable.

We have a tonne of games over the next month or so, and it would be unrealistic to expect the side that started on Saturday to be able to play every single match, so Tony Mowbray will either be forced into changes or will need to freshen it up at some point - and that could be when Ba gets his shot.

The next game is Blackpool and I think that possibly comes too soon for him. I think the only likely change is Amad for Elliot Embleton, but if we play poorly and get beaten (touch wood that doesn’t happen) then that will likely be the time to bring in a bunch of new faces.

For now though, I’d be happy to see him coming on later in games to cause mayhem, hopefully when we’re already winning!

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

I’ve been really impressed by Ba so far, and I think we’ve got a potentially superb player on our hands.

However, I think Tony Mowbray has said that for the time being, he will look to use the younger lads as the game unfolds and some of the physicality drops off, and I can see the sense in that.

Preston North End were big, strong, they know the Championship inside out, so Sunderland did well to match them and take a lot of the sting out of the game.

From that platform, the likes of Ba had a little more space and were able to show their ability, whereas that might not have been possible if they were involved from kickoff and having to establish a foothold in the game.

Ba will no doubt be desperate to start but we can use that to our advantage by bedding him in slowly, keeping him hungry and avoiding the possibility of burning him out.

Those ahead of him are all contributing too, so to my mind, there isn’t an obvious choice to drop out, and now there are so many substitutions available it makes sense to spread the workload.

Either way, things don't look too bad right now and I can see Ba really growing over the next few months. He wasn’t the most heralded of arrivals but the early signs are very promising.

Mitch Marshall says…

I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen of Ba since his arrival from Le Havre in the summer.

The French club, which produced Premier League talents like Paul Pogba and Riyad Mahrez, may well have delivered us a gem, because Ba has shown intricate ball control, energy and athleticism in his cameos against both Watford and Preston.

Those are excellent raw materials for our coaching staff to work with, and they set him in good stead for Championship football.

He certainly seems to have a good stature for a young player, which should enhance our more diminutive midfield without compromising on technical ability.

During the Preston game, someone close to me jokingly said ‘he’s no Jay Matete though, is he?’ and although Ba may have threatened Matete’s place in the squad somewhat, I think they played well together in the closing stages of the Watford game.

I also think that both players face a similar question about where they fit into our setup, especially if they are looking to start games.

Ba replaced Corry Evans against Preston, but I don’t think that he and Dan Neil will start in a central midfield two very often. They both seem to be more dynamic than Evans, but without him, I think we lack a bit of balance and poise.

For that reason, I agree with Andrew’s assessment that Ba will likely be used in a similar role to that which he has been so far.

When chasing goals late in games, his drive will be very welcome, and having both he and Matete on the bench means we can save Evans’ legs so that he can hopefully start the majority of league matches.

All of this shows that, even before Edouard Michut enters the fray, we have great midfield options and so far, Ba is proving to be a very handy addition indeed.

Watford v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Vicarage Road Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Phil West says…

I would love to think that Ba can force himself into our starting eleven over the next few weeks, but patience will be key- from both the fans and the player himself.

Like so many of his teammates, Ba is new to English football and is clearly going through a settling-in period, and I trust that Tony Mowbray will manage him smartly, and ensure that his workload is not excessive. The methodology is that these young recruits will have to earn their places on merit, and that’s exactly how it should be.

During his appearances so far, Ba has shown a lot of potential and some very neat touches in midfield, and it is reassuring that in what was previously considered a problem area, we are developing some greater depth. It will also give the likes of Dan Neil some impetus to keep improving and ensure that their standards don’t drop, which can only benefit the team as a whole.

I would expect Ba to start on the bench against Blackpool tomorrow, but perhaps Mowbray will bring him on at the sixty-minute mark, ideally with the team in a strong position, to allow him to get a greater feel for the Championship and hopefully to influence matters during the final half hour of the game.

Ba is a precocious talent, and it may be a while until we see the very best of him, but it will be a matter of allowing him to develop at his own pace.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


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