Ex-Bayern Munich star Jan Kirchhoff to provide vital piece of Sunderland jigsaw
David Moyes may have had his managerial credentials questioned after Sunderland's desperate start to the season.
The Scot retained his belief when the side was on a losing streak and he’s not got carried away by the resurgence either.
Sunderland’s 3-0 win over Hull City sent 40,000-odd long-suffering Wearsiders into ecstasy and lifted the club off the foot of the Premier League. But the Black Cats boss is no fool.
“It wasn’t always great between the boxes but we had a keeper and two centre forwards in great form” was his astute post-match assessment.
There is no doubt that things are heading in the right direction – Victor Anichebe and Jermain Defoe are banging in the goals and Jordan Pickford is keeping the ball out at the other end.
Moyes is, understandably, thrilled by the dramatic transformation, but if the Black Cats are to sustain both form and results, they will also need to excel in that bit “in between” the two areas.
Calling Jan Kirchhoff. The German is back on the field after a seven-week absence with a hamstring injury.
And his return to fitness could not have come at more crucial time for the Black Cats.
Saturday’s match with Liverpool might come too soon for the 26-year-old, but December could prove a pivotal month for the side.
Sunderland host Leicester City, flying in Europe yet stuttering in England , travel to relegation rivals Swansea City and entertain Watford on the first three Saturdays next month.
Moyes was in the crowd braving the elements at a windswept Leigh Sports Village on Monday to watch the return of Kirchhoff and the continued comeback of Seb Larsson in Sunderland U23s’ 2-0 win over Man United.
The Swede was making his third appearance for the U23s following his recovery from summer knee surgery and Moyes will have been pleased to see him open the scoring, albeit with the assistance of a generous deflection.
And he will have been just as delighted with the game-sealer from Kirchhoff on the hour. The ex-Bayern Munich defender intercepted a United counter-attack before finding Rees Greenwood.
Rapid over the ground, the winger’s diagonal run enticed Kieran O’Hara out of his goal, allowing Greenwood the task of laying the ball back to Kirchhoff who hammered into the net from 14 yards.
The finish was decisive but so too was the way he got hold of possession and found a team-mate.
Sunderland have missed Kirchhoff’s cool head in the centre of the park, that ability to break up an opposition move with his nous and positional sense.
The stats prove the Black Cats have improved at both ends of the field. They have scored 12 goals in 12 games, having managed only seven in their first 10, while they have conceded 21, but only one in the last 180 minutes.
However, they were cut open by both Bournemouth and Hull, relying overly on Pickford and some wayward shooting.
The presence of Kirchhoff would be a major boost to a side who have been minus midfield partner Lee Cattermole for the same period – the skipper won’t be back until the spring.
Kirchhoff could, and it’s only a could, be back this Saturday at Anfield, but the player himself is not putting any timescale on his Premier League return.
“I’m not sure, we will see,” he said in an interview with www.safc.com. “It was a hard first week back for me [last week]. We had double sessions Monday and Tuesday, trained fully at the weekend and had a full 90 minutes [on Monday].
“We will then have to see how it goes towards the weekend.”
Kirchhoff will probably not want to be rushed nor will Moyes want to risk such a valuable member of his squad.
But the player is excited by the shoots of a revival.
“It’s what we needed to get the season started, to get a good feeling into the squad and give us the self-confidence that we can win games,” he said. “We had been close through our first games but we never did it.
“We now need to stay on this level to win our next games and get out of the bottom three.”