Ricky Alvarez is reportedly close to signing for Sunderland. So close in fact, it’s been reported as a “done deal” in some quarters. Where he will play in this Sunderland side, should he sign, is not entirely clear, but alongside Adam Johnson, Emanuele Giaccherini, Will Buckley and Jordi Gomez, he will be expected to bring some much needed creativity and additional goals to the side.
The Fabio Borini “transfer saga” also continues to rumble on and should he arrive on Wearside, slim though the chances may be, then that would leave Sunderland’s squad looking top heavy. That’s no bad thing, options are important. Despite losing at QPR, it was refreshing to see the likes of Giaccherini, Buckley and indeed Jozy Altidore there as potential game changers. Unfortunately, their introductions didn’t end up changing the result, but it’s a far cry from the days where Sunderland managers had Craig Gardner and David Vaughan to turn to.
That bench also presented a concern though and not a minor one; an almost complete absence of defensive cover. After an opening day performance that was sadly characteristic of his time at the club, Valentin Roberge is certainly not a player Gus Poyet will want to turn to in a hurry should injuries and suspensions occur. Indeed, he wasn’t even on the bench at Loftus Road, with Billy Jones the only man to provide an option at the back in the event of an injury.
Roberge looks to be on his way out of the club if another defender comes in, but that still leaves this Sunderland squad looking remarkably short at the back. The bare minimum required should surely be a central defender capable of pushing the ageing Brown and O’Shea for a first team spot, as well as left sided version of Santiago Vergini, who can play full back and provide cover centrally. That would offer Poyet seven defenders for four positions, rather than the current five plus Roberge.
If the situation is not resolved and Roberge is forced to stay, then that would be a concern too, given his inability to handle the physicality and pace of the Premier League, as evidenced in his recent outing against West Brom. Perhaps he could do a job a left back, as he does at least have an excellent range of passing. In the full back position, he’d certainly be under less pressure from the type of big physical forwards that have caused him so many problems since his arrival in England.
That said, even in the worst case scenario, at least the likes of Will Buckley, Sebastian Larsson, Jack Rodwell and even Liam Bridcutt are probably capable of providing cover at the back. A far from ideal situation and with an almost complete absence of cover for the left, the presence of these versatile players in the squad does at least mean we are a few steps further from crisis than would otherwise be the case. That said, the thought of Liam Bridcutt having to fill in at the heart of defence and coming up against the likes of Edin Dzeko, Andy Carroll and Wilfried Bony is hardly confidence inspiring.
For all that the paper talk has centred on Borini – it’s a story that sells, so it’s hardly surprising – it’s pleasing that the club do appear to be working on bringing in defensive reinforcements. Although I’m loathe to read too much into transfer links either on Twitter or in the press, the fact that the names of Micah Richards and Toby Alderweireld have cropped up several times does suggest targets are being zoned in on.
Alderweireld is particularly interesting, in that he fits the bill as a left sided version of Vergini. I can’t pretend to be an expert on him as a player, but he certainly can play both centrally and as a left back. Richards is also a versatile player and crucially offers pace and power, something absent from our backline at present.
In short, whilst the recruitment drive for attacking players is both exciting and encouraging, it is the defence that is in dire need of additions. At this stage, I’d happily miss out on Borini if it meant deals for defenders could be concluded. As we’ve seen with our game changers in attack on the bench, options are vital and at present, we simply don’t have enough of them at the back.