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Sunday, 18 August 2013

Sunderland: Di Canio's revolution needs time ... and more players!


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As the new-look Sunderland players trenched off the Stadium of Light to a chorus of boos following the 1-0 defeat to Fulham the TV cameras cut to a forlorn figure kneeling in a squat-like position on the touchline. With his head in his hands and an expressionless look on his face, it was obvious what was going through Paolo Di Canio’s mind …

“We need a new midfielder, someone who can create … someone who has the keys to the house. We need a quality left back, someone who can overlap the wingers.” And, “I can’t wait for Steven Fletcher to return.” Well, if he wasn’t thinking that, he should have been.

Di canio opening day defeatThere were plenty of positives to take from this afternoon’s performances but the fact is Sunderland still lacked that real cutting-edge that was so lost on them last season. They had 57 per cent possession today and 14 shots on goal, but for all that pressure, could only muster a mere three shots on target.

The internet blew-up instantly with the cries of, “same old story, same old Sunderland” and even the odd hilarious, “Di Canio OUT.” Of course, it’s way too early to be judging the team based on one performance, especially since the starting line-up featured five of the 10 new signings – as I said, there were positives.

Valentin Roberge looked a class act alongside O’Shea in the heart of the defence and wasn’t shy in getting forward. He was genuinely solid up until the goal and can only get better with more game time. Cabral was quality in the center of midfield and looks like an absolute bargain signing. While his shots were generally wayward, fans will be pleased to see that at least he was getting forward and wasn’t shy in having a crack. Emmanuelle Giaccherini was a box of tricks early on and linked up well with Johnson despite the two being on opposite sides of the field. Johnson by the way seemed to have the swagger of old and looks five times the player he was this time last season. Jack Colback grew into the game more and more and proved just how much of an asset he is to the club. Finally, Jozy Altidore – after a quiet start, began to show how much he’s grown as a player since his mediocre spell at Hull three years ago and I believe, will make a big impact this season.

Nonetheless, the three positions I pointed at early do need to be addressed, and I believe will be as early as Tuesday. Whether acquiring a midfielder that can link defence to attack means Di Canio will have to abandon his plans of bringing in someone British remains to be seen, but the fact is Sebastian Larsson isn’t the man for the job and is too often one-dimensional. The mercurial Italian also has the option of dropping Sessegnon back into midfield when Fletcher returns from injury – this would definitely give the Benin international licence to roam and take the pressure off him scoring the majority of the goals.

As far as the left back position goes, Danny Rose would excel in an attack-minded defence and Ellis Short would be wise to put-in a big money bid in order to prize him away from Spurs. As mentioned earlier Altidore will only get better up-front and with Fletcher returning sooner than first thought the team do look to be well-stocked in that position, but in my opinion the club needs to cut their losses on Connor Wickham, or at least loan him out for a season and wouldn’t lose out doing the same to Ji-Dong Won. This would free-up space for one of the Juventus boys (Quagliarella or Matri-or why not both?) ensuring strength in depth all over the park.

It’s early days and, as usual I’ve still got hope, but with Arsenal losing to Villa earlier and doubts over whether David Moyes can succeed at Manchester United - even though they did hammer Swansea - this could be the most open Premier League season we’ve seen in a long time so Sunderland really need to take advantage and ensure they pick up maximum points at home, and against the lower ranked teams.

Calling all Black Cats: What did you make of the opening game at the Stadium of Light? Were you disappointed by the performance or do you think there is enough promise there. Where do you think we should strengthen before the window shuts? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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Antony Melvin

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