Analysis - Jeremain Lens debut will provide indication of Sunderland’s formation this season

Jeremain Lens
Jeremain Lens
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In truth, there has been little of note in Sunderland’s pre-season campaign up to this point.

With only one fresh face to cast a glance over and the gaps in Dick Advocaat’s side still so blatantly obvious, the friendly programme has largely revolved around the basic need for Sunderland’s players to get a few minutes under their belts.

Lens will provide that injection of pace which has been lacking in Sunderland’s ranks for so long.

However, that will change at Doncaster on Wednesday night.

Sunderland debuts for Younes Kaboul and Jeremain Lens will provide some notable intrigue at the Keepmoat Stadium, particularly the latter, given there is already a weight on his shoulders to add some much-needed creativity to the Black Cats’ ranks.

By the end of the transfer window, Lens will surely not be the sole attacking recruit made by Sunderland this summer.

But with less than a fortnight to go before the Premier League gets underway, he is the only one at present who is a sure-fire starter for the opening game at Leicester.

Lens will provide that injection of pace which has been lacking in Sunderland’s ranks for so long, yet how will Advocaat deploy the Dutch international to make the most out of his prowess?

There was a VERY telling comment from Advocaat during Sunderland’s time in North America after the £8million capture of Lens had been signed and sealed.

“Lens is not really a player for a 4-4-2,” said the head coach.

We can immediately scrap the idea of Sunderland going back to the days of two wingers slinging in crosses to two strikers.

Advocaat ideally wants to use Lens as one of the wide players in a 4-3-3 set-up, probably with Adam Johnson on the opposite flank.

But does he have the other personnel to play in that way?

There was an intriguing tweak to the system for Sunderland’s final friendly in North America last week, when Johnson operated in the hole behind an orthodox front two of Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe.

It was far more of a 4-3-1-2, than a 4-3-3.

Defoe clearly favours that route after he was non-plussed at being on the left wing for both of Sunderland’s friendlies in California.

It suits Fletcher and Danny Graham to play that way too, albeit Connor Wickham offers more versatility.

But Lens hasn’t been bought for that set-up.

His pace makes him ideal to play on the shoulder of the last defender, rather than in the hole behind two strikers.

And while he did play centrally under Advocaat at PSV Eindhoven, the Sunderland boss has already confirmed that he wants to predominantly use Lens in a wide role this season.

Now, if Sunderland can make further breakthroughs in the transfer market by adding more attack-minded players to the squad, then Advocaat’s range of options should improve.

But for the moment, Advocaat can only deal with the hand he has been given.

For the first time this pre-season on Wednesday, he has a full range of options available to him.

It will be the best indication yet of how Sunderland will line up on the opening day at Leicester.