CHRIS YOUNG: Sunderland can let Khazri go and give David Moyes more cash
As the camera zoomed in on the Sunderland bench during the first half against Leicester, there was a sullen figure in the background, shielding himself from the North Sea wind.
Wahbi Khazri appeared far from content in the far reaches of the dug-out and it’s no surprise. The £9million January signing has almost become the forgotten man after being cast aside by David Moyes.
Khazri’s October opportunity in the starting XI briefly flicked into life, yet after that dismal, confidence-starved display against Arsenal, he has retreated to the fringes, despite Sunderland’s season ticket to the A&E department.
Surely, both Sunderland and Khazri will already be eyeing a parting of ways next month, despite another three-and-a-half years remaining on his contract at the Stadium of Light.
Will the season-ending injury to Duncan Watmore change that? Not necessarily.
It’s undoubtedly a blow for Moyes to lose Watmore. For all the remaining rough edges, the England Under-21 international is unstoppable in closing defenders down, and more importantly, moves Sunderland quickly up the pitch with his rangy runs.
Until Fabio Borini returns to full fitness - which shouldn’t be an age - neither Khazri, nor Adnan Januzaj are like-for-like replacements for Watmore.
Moyes clearly has concerns about the work-rate and attitude of both, hence his decision to bring on Javier Manquillo for the closing stages against Leicester, when Sunderland were sweating on that one-goal advantage.
However, Januzaj is far more likely than Khazri to replace Watmore for this weekend’s humdinger at Swansea, even if those reservation marks from Manchester United over his commitment have continued on Wearside.
Januzaj doubtless has an abundance of guile and his dribbling abilities will at least relieve the pressure and allow Sunderland to push forwards, as the Belgian jinks down the flank.
Khazri is more of a creator than a dribbler, but the biggest obstacle towards reviving his Sunderland career, appears to be Moyes’ lack of trust in his grafting contribution.
There looks to have been that reservation ever since Moyes put his new squad through their paces on pre-season in the Alps during the summer.
It’s a strange turnaround for Khazri after he made such a huge impact under Sam Allardyce, following his arrival from Bordeaux.
Khazri added a much-needed element of creativity to a side full of workers and his delivery from set pieces, immaculate technique and that wonder goal in the oh-so-memorable win over Chelsea, put him in line to be a key figure for Sunderland this season, as he increasingly got to grips with the league.
But he’s been the most prominent victim of how a change of manager invariably prompts a change of opinion.
Moyes just hasn’t fancied Khazri, with the shock selection of Lynden Gooch ahead of him on the opening day at Manchester City setting the tone.
The work-rate of a Premier League novice was preferable to the Sunderland manager than a more-established player, who lacked the same tenacity in his pressing.
Perhaps Allardyce, or the coaching team that he left behind, raised concerns over Khazri’s performances away from home last season - the 3-0 win at Norwich immediately springs to mind - and Moyes was unable to shake those fears.
But at present, there looks little way back for Khazri. If Sunderland can recoup a sizeable chunk of cash in January, then surely Moyes would be willing to talk turkey.
Considering Sunderland’s current financial situation and Ellis Short’s willingness to sell-up, there is unlikely to be a king’s ransom at Moyes’ disposal, even if the club would be an infinitely more appealing proposition to potential buyers if it was still in the Premier League.
But reinforcements will be clearly needed to enhance the survival bid, despite the vast improvement over the last four games.
The Yann M’Vila saga still needs to be resolved, while Sunderland require another frontman to offer a helping hand to Jermain Defoe and Victor Anichebe.
The strike pair have given CPR to what appeared a pointless bid to remain in the Premier League, but what happened if either faces a spell on the sidelines? It’s an unthinkable prospect, yet a very realistic one, considering Sunderland’s record with injuries this season.
Moyes may have to wheel and deal to add another frontman, and Khazri has clearly become a player who is dispensable, however much the injury list continues to lengthen.