Since Sam Allardyce took over the reins from Dick Advocaat, one of the players who has benefited the most is Patrick van Aanholt.
The Dutchman’s bizarre defending at the start of the season led to him being dropped from the starting XI, but Sam has given him a second chance and while his positional play can still be erratic, he’s definitely improved and is currently playing his best football of the season.
Van Aanholt is even weighing in with goals and assists, and although his strike against Aston Villa has been harshly taken off him, he looks a real threat going forwards and is building up a good understanding down the left flank with Fabio Borini.
I feel he really comes into his own when Sunderland play five at the back, as he has more licence to attack, with extra cover behind him.
But even in a flat back four, he’s looking far more comfortable.
Why van Aanholt started the season so off-the-pace is a mystery, although it’s got to be said that it wasn’t just him. The whole team looked a shambles defensively.
Conceding four on the opening day at Leicester and then three in the next game against Norwich affected his confidence and he never really recovered from that. Advocaat had to leave him out.
However, sometimes being taken out of the firing line is not a bad thing and van Aanholt has obviously watched and learned from his time on the sidelines.
It’s always a good test of character when you have a bad time, but can come through the other side better and stronger.
When Big Sam first came through the door, he had to lift players whose confidence was shot and he’s done that with van Aanholt by recalling him and picking him regularly.
While he’s still not the finished article, he’s a better player now than the one who started the season.