Would Patrick Roberts fit in at Sunderland? Why Middlesbrough spell didn't work out and his situation at Manchester City
Sunderland are monitoring the availability of Manchester City playmaker Patrick Roberts – but would he be a good fit for the Black Cats?
The 24-year-old moved to the Etihad Stadium from Fulham in 2015 but has made just three senior appearances for City amid several loan moves.
Following spells at Middlesbrough and Derby last season, Roberts joined French side Troyes in August, yet things haven’t gone to plan with the Ligue 1 club.
After making just one first-team appearance for Troyes, the playmaker looks set for another switch this month. But will that be to Sunderland?
We take a closer look at his situation:
What sort of player is he?
Roberts is a left-footed playmaker who has predominantly played on the right flank, where he can cut inside onto his stronger foot.
He has also operated in the No 10 position where he can roam behind a striker and run at defenders.
At 5 ft 6, Roberts’ biggest strength are his dribbling skills and ability to move the ball quickly.
Still, the player’s physical attributes, including multiple hamstring injuries, have hampered his career so far.
Why it didn’t work out at Middlesbrough?
The club where Roberts is remembered most fondly is at Celtic, where he spent two and a half years during multiple loan spells.
After making 78 appearances for the SPL club, Roberts was repeatedly praised by then-Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers.
“Patrick is a fantastic player and we are always going to be interested in top class players,” said Rodgers in 2018. “He's a player we'd love to keep.”
Despite that appraisal, Roberts moved to Spanish side Girona, where he was held back by a hamstring injury, before an unsuccessful loan spell at Norwich in the Premier League.
Roberts then appeared to become something of a fans’ favourite after joining Championship club Middlesbrough, initially impressing under Jonathan Woodgate at the start of 2020 before suffering another hamstring setback.
The playmaker returned when the season resumed following the first lockdown and played an important role to keep Boro up under Neil Warnock.
Warnock spoke glowingly of Roberts’ attacking prowess and creative spark, so it was no surprise that Boro re-signed the attacker that summer.
Yet while the player was told he’d be a key part in the team’s attack, Roberts made just nine Championship appearances (with five coming off the bench), before being recalled by City and sent out on loan to Derby in January 2021.
Warnock’s biggest reservation was the lack of defensive cover Roberts offered in wide areas, as the team predominately operated in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
“I apologised to him for it not working out,” said Warnock after the loan deal was cut short in January.
“I just couldn’t get him into the team in a position where I felt that we didn’t have a better alternative.
“We tried it on two or three occasions and it just never quite came off.”
Roberts made 15 appearances, scoring once, for Derby in the second half of last season as the Rams stayed up on the final day of the campaign.
Would he fit in at Sunderland?
Roberts would clearly add competition and ability to Sunderland’s squad, yet he wouldn’t be guaranteed a regular starting place.
The Black Cats have played with a flexible 3-4-2-1 system in recent weeks, with playmakers Alex Pritchard and Elliot Embleton linking up well to support Ross Stewart.
If Roberts did join, you would think he would be challenging Pritchard and Embleton for one of the attacking positions.
Sunderland boss Lee Johnson could revert back to a 4-2-3-1 set-up which he regularly deployed earlier in the season, and Roberts would perhaps provide a more natural option on the flank.
With Aiden McGeady expected to be sidelined until February, Johnson has been left with one less option in that area.
The Black Cats boss does still have Lynden Gooch, Leon Dajaku, Aiden O’Brien and Embleton who can all operate out wide, though, while Sunderland are also considering recalling Jack Diamond and Josh Hawkes from loan spells at Harrogate and Tranmere respectively.
Would a loan move work out?
Sunderland have five players in their squad on loan from other clubs.
They include: Dajaku, Thorben Hoffmann, Callum Doyle, Nathan Broadhead and Frederik Alves.
While there is no limit on the number of players EFL clubs are allowed on loan, they are only allowed to name five loanees in a matchday squad.
With Broadhead expected to be sidelined to three months, Sunderland are keen to keep the forward, yet his injury and unavailability may tempt the Black Cats to add a sixth loanee to their ranks.
Sunderland are also set to have discussions with West Ham about Alves’ situation, due to the defender’s lack of game time in League One, though a final decision is likely to happen later in the window.
Another option would be to make Hoffmann and Dajaku’s loan deals permanent, yet Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman has admitted that may prove tricky.
In short, then, it does look like there will be room for Sunderland to make a few more loan additions this month, though they will be keen to make sure they are in the right positions.
If they do make a move for Roberts, City may be encouraged by Doyle’s playing time and development at Sunderland.
Still, Roberts’ chances of breaking into the first team in Manchester are slim, while his contract at the Etihad is set to expire this summer.