The Agenda: Winners and losers of Gus Poyet's Sunderland

Six games into Gustavo Poyet’s reign as Sunderland coach, patterns are starting to emerge. Stuart Rayner looks at the winners and losers

Action Images / Ed Sykes

THE WINNERS

PHIL BARDSLEY

THE most obvious winner of the Poyet regime. With Paolo Di Canio in charge, the right-back was most likely to be sleeping with the fishes before he got another game in Sunderland’s first team – but the age-ld cliché of the new manager and his blank sheet of paper have rescued Bardsley and his close friend Lee Cattermole from exile.

Quite how the emergence of Ki Sung-Yeung as a quality holding midfield player will impact on Cattermole now the Teessider is back from suspension remains to be seen, but Poyet’s insistence on playing players in their correct position has made Bardsley indispensable, at least until the next transfer window.

Some Sunderland supporters might be a bit uneasy about seeing a player who mocked his own side’s opening-day defeat on Instagram back in the fold, but being capable of slotting into either full-back position in a squad with so few specialists in those areas has made Bardsley a key figure again.

JOHN O’SHEA

AT Selhurst Park O’Shea looked jittery and ill at ease with himself. It was no great surprise he ended one of the low points of Sunderland’s early-season – and that’s saying something – in the stands having been sent off.

Whoever was manager when Wes Brown returned to fitness would more than likely have put him straight back into the first team, but Poyet had the good fortune it was him. For O’Shea, it has meant not having to constantly look over his shoulder to see what Vanlentin Roberge and Modibo Diakite – both unconvincing at the start of their Wearside careers – were up to. Having grown up together at Manchester United, O’Shea and Brown have known one another and their games for over a decade. It shows in the Irishman’s performances.

VITO MANNONE

WHEN the Black Cats signed an Italian keeper in the summer, it seemed obvious to some what would happen next. With an Italian goalkeeping coach (Domenico Doardo) and another Italian picking the team, some assumed Mannone would be Paolo Di Canio’s first choice. They under-estimated Keiren Westwood’s ability.

However, when Westwood bravely rushed out at Paul McShane’s feet at Hull, fortune favoured Mannone.

Given a run in the side just as Brown returned to it, Mannone has not only been a reassuringly solid presence, but eight years at Arsenal have left him well trained in the possession football Poyet wants even from the man in the goalkeeping gloves.

JACK COLBACK

ANOTHER to benefit from the policy of putting players in their correct position. Colback had long been used to fill the long-term blind spot in Sunderland’s squad at left-back.

He performed well there too, but he is visibly happier now Poyet (right) has redefined him as a central midfielder. Just as importantly, switching to his more natural position, where competition is fiercer, has not cost him his place as it threatened to when he watched the Uruguayan’s opening match from the bench.

Sebastian Larsson has also benefitted from Poyet’s assertion he is a central midfielder, not a right winger.

THE PURISTS

FOR those who like patient, passing football, watching Sunderland is a treat.

There may be a frustrating lack of urgency from the Black Cats at times and they might lack the cutting edge to give their tiki-taka the cutting edge it deserves, but no one can complain they are resorting to ugly football to get themselves away from the relegation zone.

The hope must be in the second half of the season Poyet can sign and develop the players to make the system effective at home and away.

THE LOSERS

CRAIG GARDNER

WHILE the round pegs in round holes policy has benefited some, Gardner has been an undoubted loser.

For much of his Sunderland career he has been an uncomplaining emergency right-back but now he is only being considered as a midfielder he has found himself towards the back of the queue.

Gardner’s big strength is he can score goals from midfield, something his team badly lack. However, Poyet’s obsession is keeping the ball, and he seems to think Gardner does not have the technique to support that.

EMANUELE GIACCHERINI

The Italy international remains Sunderland’s great conundrum. Caretaker manager Kevin Ball was a fan and did his best to give Giaccherini the freedom to impose his undoubted talents on the Black Cats’ opponents.

Poyet’s 4-1-4-1 formation means the only role for Giaccherini is as a wide player and his insistence on the full-backs getting forward means his luxury player has to work hard in both directions. Circumstances have also conspired against the former Juventus player, sacrificed when Poyet went for a very British derby team and withdrawn when Wes Brown was sent off at Stoke City.

ROBERTO DE FANTI

THIS one could still go either way, but Poyet seems determined not to allow Sunderland’s director of football the power he had under Di Canio. The former agent is the kingmaker who recommended both coaches and after Di Canio’s appointment he was allowed to sign 14 players for £20m. The early indications are he got what he paid for.

Di Canio made no secret of the fact he was unhappy with the quality of players he was presented with.

That in turn should allow Poyet to have more say in who arrives and leaves in January.

The former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder seems to think he will get that but, as even he has hinted, we will only know how strong his influence is when the window shuts.

Sunderland should be warned – similar power struggles were a big factor in Poyet leaving Brighton.

PAOLO DI CANIO

FOR the sake of his long-term job prospects, Di Canio really needed his replacement to come in and struggle. The Italian has been vocal in his criticism of the quality of the squad he was handed, so every win Poyet can muster reflects badly on his failure to do so this term.

Poyet still may not save Sunderland from relegation – which would vindicate Di Canio to a degree – but the fact he has already got more out of the same set of players will not escape the attention of those chairmen who find Di Canio’s cv dropping on their desk in the coming months.

TRAVELLING SUPPORTERS

THERE are certainly limits to Poyet’s achievements and their away form is the most glaring. Three matches in, Sunderland’s hardy travelling supporters are yet to see a goal, never mind a point. In fact, they have only seen five shots on target.

For all Poyet has improved Sunderland’s play on the road, he has done nothing to stop the isolation which has been such a depressing feature of his Black Cats career.

Three red cards and two own goals have been mitigating factors (though all bar since-rescinded Brown’s dismissal have been clumsily self-inflicted), but generally when Poyet’s team play away from Wearside damage limitation is the limit of their ambitions.

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