Thursday 14 December 2017

Sunderland's sale of key defender is not a sign of surrender, it's David Moyes gambling to avoid the drop

Losing a key player to a relegation rival may seem ill-advised but it's the only way for Moyes to strengthen a squad that isn't good enough to stay in the Premier League otherwise

David Moyes is doing all in his power to keep Sunderland in Premier League. Photo: Reuters
David Moyes is doing all in his power to keep Sunderland in Premier League. Photo: Reuters

David Preece

On the surface, offering one of your few saleable assets to a relegation rival might not seem the wisest of decisions but in selling Patrick van Aanholt to Crystal Palace, David Moyes and Sunderland have done exactly that.

£14 million for a player bought for £1.5 million would ordinarily seem good business to everyone but is seen by some as a move that potentially strengthens Palace’s starting eleven while weakening Moyes’s own. Yet yhere are wider issues at play.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is equivalent to simply waving a white flag over the Stadium of Light - not in the way that allowing Jermain Defoe to go to West Ham, or Jordan Pickford to be snapped up by anyone would be. This is a chance for the Sunderland manager to roll the dice and be pro-active rather than sit back and accept their fate as sealed. For the first time since his arrival, it’s sign of positivity. A bold move.

His choice was to either keep Van Aanholt from a move he wants, all the while hoping that there’s going to be a rapid improvement to a crippling injury list, or to take the £14 million and hope that he can be shrewd enough to make it stretch to two or three new faces and improve their chances of staying up. In taking the latter, the fighting talk that’s been missing has appeared.

It’s not that there is little money for David Moyes to strengthen his squad, there is none. And even though conceding that any potential free signings wouldn’t make the difference needed wasn’t the rallying cry fans wanted to hear, there is now hope on the horizon.

Whilst Moyes’s demeanour hasn’t suggested he feels his team are on course to break out from the prison of the bottom three, the sale of Van Aanholt has at least given him some room to manoeuvre. With no game this weekend, if it will be a frantic few days at the club that could save their season.

Patrick van Aanholt is the subject of a bid from Crystal Palace

Sunderland fans are used to looking for any cause for optimism to hold onto, no matter how small, but this season has seen little in the way of light. Confidence is low and that's visible in performances that have lacked purpose and any sign of fight that might suggest survival is possible. And despite this, despite sitting bottom of the Premier League, they still only find themselves one win from safety.

It’s the performances that have worried most. The ease with which a Stoke trio of Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Peter Crouch dismantled Sunderland’s defence a fortnight ago and Van Aanholt’s exit gives Moyes the opportunity to bring a more defensive full-back to the left side of his defence.

It’s widely acknowledged that the Dutchman’s strength is going forward, especially as part of a five-man backline, but defensively he has been guilty of leaving spaces for opposition to exploit. Sunderland still have enough firepower in Jermain Defoe to win games, just not the type of threat that can overcome losing 2 or 3 goal deficits.

In Swansea’s Neil Taylor and Bordeaux’s Diego Contento, potential replacements for Van Aanholt have been earmarked and with the signing of Joleon Lescott, strengthening of departments further up the pitch can be made.

Jan Kirchhoff’s familiarity with the treatment table has lead to a lack of composure within the midfield and in his short time at the club, Victor Anichebe became an important figure in offering a physical presence, protecting the ball and helping Sunderland escape the clutches of over-conservatism and make their way up the pitch. He is now expected to miss the next three months and a replacement is a must.

It may feel like desperation stakes to some but Sunderland have gambled on changes of managers in the past when all hope seemed lost and walked out of the casino smiling. David Moyes will be hoping his bravery ends up with the same result too.

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