Chris Young Analysis: Extra midfield battler suits Sunderland in current position

Jan Kirchhoff.  Picture by FRANK REID
Jan Kirchhoff. Picture by FRANK REID
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Injuries limited Jan Kirchhoff to a mere 12 Bundesliga starts during his loan spell at Schalke last season.

Such little game-time didn’t help the 25-year-old’s prospects when he returned to Bayern Munich last summer and found himself on the farthest flung fringes of Pep Guardiola’s plans.

But Kirchhoff’s stint at Schalke did help to develop a different facet to his game after he was primarily used as a holding midfielder.

When Kirchhoff joined Sunderland in a £750,000 move last month, he was earmarked as a solution to the Black Cats’ scant options in the back four after making his name as an imposing central defender at Mainz.

Yet Allardyce made it clear that Kirchhoff was an option in midfield too, and the German did play there in one of the behind-closed-doors game last month designed to boost his match fitness.

Allardyce has primarily opted for one attack-minded player in the middle of the park since Seb Larsson suffered knee ligament damage in November, with Ola Toivonen, Adam Johnson and Jeremain Lens all given licence to drift into that ‘number 10’ role.

Sunderland have continued to concede goals though.

The thinking behind Allardyce’s decision to introduce more steel and solidity into the middle of the park against Manchester City on Tuesday was easily understandable.

It’s not the first time that Allardyce has given a central defender-by-trade the job of patrolling in front of the back four.

Think back to Ivan Campo at Bolton; a figure of fun initially, who developed into a linchpin of that Allardyce side.

The presence of another defensive-minded player alongside Yann M’Vila and Lee Cattermole on Tuesday night had a few teething problems in the opening 25 minutes.

The trio were all treading on each other’s toes, with no one able to bridge the sizeable gap to Jermain Defoe.

But it gradually began to click when Cattermole and M’Vila pushed upfield and sparked a sustained spell of pressure on the City goal.

While Cattermole and M’Vila won’t offer a goal threat themselves, they both have the engines to get up and down the pitch in support of the front three.

Using the trio together in the middle of the park won’t be set in stone.

When Sunderland face (on paper) a ‘winnable’ game at the Stadium of Light, then the Black Cats have to go on the attack in their current position.

But when Sunderland are in the midst of three successive games against Premier League heavyweights, it perhaps pays dividends to have an extra layer of midfield protection.

Certainly, it would be a surprise if Allardyce wavers from that set-up at Anfield tomorrow, with Wahbi Khazri’s inclusion at the expense of Jeremain Lens likely to be the only change.

Just as on Tuesday night, this will be another uphill challenge to upset one of the big boys and give Sunderland a desperately needed upset.

Having an extra battler in the side is not a bad thing for those circumstances.