Why Sunderland must be patient with Jan Kirchhoff as key player returns to fitness
The way Sunderland were outplayed in the midfield at Everton leaves the return of Jan Kirchhoff, and of course Lee Cattermole, feeling like an ever more vital part of the fight against relegation.
Kirchhoff may not have the legs and energy of the Blues’ Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin, but where he is a match for anyone is his passing and reading of the game.
Able to break up play because of his awareness and positioning, he can then spring counter-attacks with his distribution to the flanks and in benind the defence.
Sunderland, ponderous in possession and unable to retain it, badly need the return of the German.
Caution is surely the best policy, however.
For, as Ben Dinnery, an injury expert in charge of premierinjuries.com, told the Echo, he is a player at real risk of recurrence if overstretched.
He said: “When he arrived at Sunderland, he could not complete 90 minutes. You could see from the start that he was head and shoulders above other players for 60 minutes in games, particularly against Newcastle in his debut season, but then he looked like he was treading water after that.
“It is no surprise that soft tissue injuries tend to happen later on in games, when players overstretch or make the wrong decision. Often it is that kind of thing, when they are fatigued, that causes the type of injuries Kirchhoff has had.”
Sam Allardyce was pleasantly surprised at how much football Kirchhoff managed in the second half of last season and Dinnery says that may well be having an effect now. He said: “The manager took a calculated risk with him, too.
“Allardyce probably knew he’d not be ready to be thrown straight in, but had to do so because Kirchhoff was what he needed at the time, someone to protect the back four.
“But that has backfired because the player picked up injuries and has not been able to put any run of consistent minutes on the pitch together.”
Kirchhoff has, as Dinnery said, been playing catch-up ever since he arrived on Wearside. Sunderland need him at his best now more than ever, but David Moyes is right to exercise caution.
With his contract up in the summer and the club fighting for their Premier League lives, a recurrence could mean we have seen him on North East turf for the last time.