Liam Kennedy: Why Jan Kirchhoff's return is crucial to Sunderland

As far as nights go, from a Sunderland perspective, Monday's was an instantly forgettable one.

Tuesday, 13th September 2016, 2:07 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th September 2016, 3:46 pm
Jan Kirchhoff in action for Sunderland
Jan Kirchhoff in action for Sunderland

Romelu Lukaku's hat-trick grabbed the headlines, so too did the creative spark of Yannick Bolasie. Idrissa Gueye's composure in the middle also drew praise, alongside the thoroughly deserved criticism of yet another Black Cats defensive capitulation.

But while all in the garden is far from rosy for boss David Moyes, with central defensive issues at the forefront of his growing list of problems, one player stepped up to show there may a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. Jan Kirchhoff was the player looked most capable of lifting the habitual early season gloom at the Stadium of Light.

The German was cool, calm and composed on his return. It was clear to see just how much Moyes' side have missed his settling presence in the heart of midfield.

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It should come as absolutely no surprise, too, that it was only when Kirchhoff tired that the Toffees began to arrest control of the clash.

Gueye's driving runs from midfield were thwarted by the presence of the former Bayern Munich man in the opening 45.

Gareth Barry's influence was dampened somewhat also, while Ross Barkley's nightmare few weeks continued when he was hooked at half-time by Ronald Koeman. Kirchhoff played a major role in that.

Barkley was wasteful in possession. That was typified by a cross at the end of the first half that was closer to the opposite corner flag than any of the three bodies awaiting his delivery in the area. But he was also not allowed the time and space in the middle by Kirchhoff, who was just too clever for the youngster.

The worm turned when Kirchhoff, helped little by midfield partner Jack Rodwell, began to look a bit leggy, and the pace and craft Gerard Deulofeu opened things up in the minutes prior to Lukaku's opener on the hour, his first for Everton in more than 1100 minutes.

The 25-year-old was a crucial part of Sam Allardyce's XI last season, and until last night Moyes had been started of his services.

A hamstring problem robbed of the start of this season, as injury has done all too many times in his career.

In seven years Kirchhoff has been on the sidelines for a remarkable two and a half of those, mainly down to a troublesome Achilles.

Even in Monday's 75 minute showing, it's clear to see that injury, and that alone, has stood between the classy Kirchhoff and success at the very highest level in European football.

For Sunderland, in the short term, though, they are much better team with him in it.

They need to keep him fit because Kirchhoff is the glue that holds the midfield together.