SUNDERLAND head coach Gus Poyet says he has reached the stage where he completely understands the strengths and weaknesses of every player in his squad.
And he says that knowledge can only benefit Sunderland on their end-of-season run-in.
The Black Cats’ form and results have improved dramatically since the turn of the year and the last couple of weeks has seen an incredible transformation in what was looking to be one of the most depressing campaigns in recent history.
In the space of 10 days, Sunderland reached the Capital One Cup final, the last 16 of the FA Cup, beat Stoke City to climb out of the Premier League’s bottom three for the first time since August and then completed the double over rivals Newcastle United with a win which hoisted them into 14th place.
Poyet says that Sunderland are reaping the benefits of having worked so hard to discover what works best for everyone in the squad.
“What is great now is that I know the players,” he told the Echo. “When I first came here, I didn’t know them.
“I didn’t want to say too much in the beginning, because it would have sounded like an excuse.
“People would have thought that I expected everyone to be patient for four or five months until I settled in.
“That wasn’t the case, but that’s what people might have thought.
“Anyway, now I know the players.
“And depending on the game and the situation, I know when and where I can use Seb Larsson, for example, and when and where I can use Craig Gardner.
“It is clear for me now – it’s easy.
“Why? Because I have seen them in games.
“You can see them in training, too, but it is only really games that can tell you properly.
“In games, you use different players in different situations and you can see what works.
“I know exactly now.
“I know when to use one player or another.
“I know when to use Emanuele Giaccherini, or this player or that player in any given situation and that is very important for us.
“When you know what the players are going to give you, that’s the best feeling for a manager.
“In the beginning, I had to make changes and just hope I got it right – that wasn’t easy – but now that’s not the case and it can only help us as we look to keep out of the bottom three.”
Poyet says the knowledge of what his players could and couldn’t do, helped inform the steps he took in the January transfer window.
“It made it easier in the transfer market, because I knew what I needed,” he nodded..
“For example, with Marcos Alonso, I wasn’t just looking for a left-back. I was looking for a left-back with certain characteristics and qualities that could do certain things for the team.
“The more he plays with the team, the better he will get and the more the team will take advantage of what he brings to us.
“When he puts the ball into the box, he has great delivery with the power and the angle and everything.
“And, as time goes on, the other players will know when it is going to come.”
Sunderland’s improvement is underlined by the the way that goals have started flowing over the last few weeks.
For most of the season, the Black Cats were averaging less than a goal a game, but, in their last four league games, 10 goals have been scored.
Poyet believes that is all down to greater understandings.
“I think the team is coming together in how it gels,” he said. “And we will get better the more we play together.
“Players are starting to understand how they can get the best out of Alonso.
“When Johnno (Adam Johnson) players further upfield on the right, we know what other options we have, now that Phil Bardsley is pushing further upfield to support him.
“We know that we have other ways of playing off him.
“So there are plenty of things we are introducing and we know that we are getting there.
“That’s just one of the reasons why we’re a better unit and why we are looking at the games ahead with confidence rather than worry.”
* Don’t miss your online Football Echo – it’s out tomorrow, around 6.45pm – on sunderland.echo.com and on the Sunderland Echo app