SWANSEA’S £10million price tag on Ki Sung-Yueng halted Sunderland’s summer pursuit of the South Korean almost before it had started.
Despite Gus Poyet privately questioning Ki’s performances in a Sunderland shirt post-Wembley – when admittedly he was suffering from a minor groin complaint – the Black Cats were open to re-signing the midfielder if the price was right.
But Garry Monk’s penchant for Ki – compared to the underwhelming view of predecessor Michael Laudrup – left Poyet and Lee Congerton looking at alternative midfielders even before the transfer window re-opened on July 1.
Ki has thrived in his second spell at the Liberty Stadium; scoring at Manchester United, creating the opener at Chelsea and duly extending his contract at the Welsh club.
There had previously only been 12 months remaining on Ki’s Swansea deal, and it rightly prompted Sunderland to baulk at the asking price for the 25-year-old former Celtic man.
But when Ki was producing his best in a Sunderland shirt, he was a vital cog in Poyet’s system; maintaining possession and crucially injecting some tempo into the Black Cats’ passing.
That element has been missing so far this season.
Sunderland’s ball retention has been poor and, setting aside the opening 20 minutes at QPR, they have dallied when they have enjoyed a sustained spell of possession, rather than playing with a purpose.
If that trend continues, Sunderland will not be ending their search for a first Premier League victory of the campaign this weekend.
Sloppiness in possession against Swansea = defeat.
It’s an equation which Sunderland’s players will have been bombarded with over the last 48 hours.
But Sunderland’s hopes tomorrow will revolve around more than simply whether they can prevent Swansea enjoying 70-80 per cent possession.
They MUST put some pressure on a Swansea defence which will be without the services of injured centre-back Jordi Amat.
Poyet’s side have been unable to do that consistently this season and it does not take a super-sleuth to grasp that the head coach’s patience is running thin.
Judging by Poyet’s comments, the likes of Seb Larsson and Adam Johnson are both vulnerable to the axe tomorrow.
The latter, in particular, is arguably Sunderland’s most talented player, but the lack of cohesion going forward for the Black Cats as a team is striking.
Poyet has already confirmed that Will Buckley will start tomorrow. He perhaps shouldn’t have been dropped in the first place after shining on his full debut against Manchester United.
Emanuele Giaccherini will surely return to the side too, providing he recovers from the ankle injury sustained against Burnley last weekend.
This is the kind of game which should suit the Italian international, along with fellow midfielder Jordi Gomez.
There should also be a first Premier League start in red and white for Billy Jones.
The Bosman signing showed what a difference a naturally attack-minded full-back can make in flashes against Stoke in midweek. Sunderland have lacked players capable of getting in behind the opposition defence all season.
Jones’s inclusion may not necessarily signal Santiago Vergini’s relegation to the bench.
With Wes Brown suffering with a calf problem last weekend and Sebastian Coates ruled out, there may be an opportunity for Vergini at centre-half.
The power and pace of Wilfried Bony will test Vergini if he does feature alongside John O’Shea, but the Argentine showed against Stoke that his distribution from the heart of defence, and ability to bring the ball out, can be a real asset.
It’s the quality of the distribution to the frontman – whether that be Connor Wickham, Jozy Altidore or Steven Fletcher – which is pivotal though.
So far, that has been haphazard, as have Sunderland’s performances been generally.
If Sunderland remain below-par tomorrow, then Swansea are the kind of perennially under-estimated side who will ruthlessly take advantage.
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