Sessegnon availability indicates change of priority at Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland

Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland is going to look rather different to Martin O’Neill’s. Since his arrival, Di Canio has very strongly prioritised hard work, fitness, energy and passion. That doesn’t sound too different from O’Neill though right? O’Neill became unpopular because his team was playing an uninteresting, uninventive, unsubtle and ultimately, unsuccessful brand of football in which honesty and effort was put to the fore of the game plan. Nothing summed this up more than the January signing of Danny Graham for £5.5m. A hard working good professional certainly, but not the right man to add fizzle and goal power to a moribund attack. Indeed the one man in the Sunderland squad who offers a bit of something genial and different is Stephane Sessegnon, and now the Italian has made him available for transfer. Is this a surprising move? Or is it just the next step of Di Canio’s purge of the squad he inherited?

Sessegnon’s 2011/12 season saw him score eight goals and make a further 12. He was one of the under the radar stars of the season, providing sparkle and production in his role behind the central striker. Last summer he was talked about as interesting Arsenal, PSG and Marseille. But this summer he is surplus to requirements. He must have had a terrible 2012/13 season then? Well, the odd thing is, the answer to that question is yes and no.

Stephane Sessegnon

The stats took a slight downturn; seven goals and six assists, but the perception of Sessegnon as something of a spent force came more from the fact that as Sunderland’s only creative player, when he struggled the whole team did. The burden of expectation to make things happen fell solely on him more often than not and although he wasn’t really that much worse than in 2011/12, the slight dip in his form, allied to big drops elsewhere exacerbated his apparent decline.

James McClean regressed horrendously last season, his run fast and hard and smash the ball towards the goal game was easily nullified once his debut season novelty had worn off. Adam Johnson’s one trick of cutting in from the right to try and bend in a shot resulted in some good goals and a solid nine assists but it all added in to the one dimensional play that plagued Sunderland all season. With no central midfielder capable of passing the ball, and both wingers struggling for consistent threat, the only imaginative presence was Sessegnon. It meant that for teams defending Sunderland, taking out Sessegnon as a threat meant they ran out of ideas. Short of giving it to Johnson and hoping he could do something or that when fit, Steven Fletcher kept scoring with every single shot he took, they couldn’t score goals.

Di Canio is trying to change this, but Sessegnon seems to fall foul of him mostly because of his lack of top end pace and even more because of his dubious work ethic defensively. The problem Sunderland could face though, is that their problems last season didn’t come from defensive or effort issues. They tried hard, but they didn’t have the variety and subtlety to get them out of trouble. Selling Sessegnon means that the club lose their one player capable of sparkle. Yes, he doesn’t run hard, he doesn’t press hard, but he can make something out of nothing.

The squad Sunderland are building next season are going to be modelled on the German model of pressing high, pressing constantly and breaking with speed. Clearly, there is no place for a meandering Sessegnon in that. But if Di Canio is copying Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, he needs to remember that they have the likes of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery. Players of exceptional quality on the ball. Not just fast players and hard working players.

It seems as if Di Canio’s recruitment is swapping the strong, try hard qualities of Martin O’Neill for a team of athletic, try hard players, looking to press and squeeze at all times. But if he doesn’t add any quality and class it could be swapping one kind of inefficiency for another.

Chelsea’s Mata, Man United’s Evans and the undervalued Premier League XI for 2011-12

It is that time of the year when everywhere you look there is a Premiership Best XI or team of the season, but what about all those unsung heroes and subs that have contributed to their team’s success in one way or another? Here is Ninety Minutes Online’s Undervalued XI of 2011-12.

GK: Tim Howard – The former Manchester United shot stopper has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the division for some time now. Capable of excellent reflex saves and with a commanding presence, the United States international has lead the Everton defence in conceding just 39 goals all season, which has included keeping 12 clean sheets. Having played every Premier League game this term, the goalkeeper has once more proved invaluable to the Merseyside team.

RB: Bacary Sagna – With the Arsenal defence being inconsistent, this man has been their shining light. Excellent defensively and dangerous going forward, the full-back has come to the fore this season, and is just as effective as Kyle Walker, Micah Richards etc. Another leg break at the tail-end of the campaign is a massive blow for the Gunners, and Arsene Wenger will hope to have the France international fit for the start of next season.

CB: Branislav Ivanovic – With John Terry seemingly in the limelight on a weekly basis, Ivanovic has been there going about his work effectively. Contributing three goals to the cause, including the decider against Napoli in the Champions League, and armed with an array of defensive capabilities, the Serb’s versatility and combativeness has been showcased this term.

CB: Johnny Evans – Evans has been a squad player in recent seasons, but with injury to Nemanja Vidic the centre half has had a run in the team and finally had the chance to show what he is capable of. The Northern Ireland international has played 27 games this year, and has been the subject of praise from Sir Alex Ferguson.

LB: Leighton Baines – Despite Ashley Cole being considered by many as England’s number one left-back, Leighton Baines has had an excellent campaign and will push the Chelsea man for a starting jersey at Euro 2012. With a deadly left foot and excellent delivery, the Toffees defender has been linked with a move to Manchester United this summer.

RM: This position was a hard call, but it is going to Stephane Sessegnon of Sunderland. Assured on the ball and with an eye for goal to match, the attacking midfielder seems destined for bigger things. Ten assists and seven goals for The Black Cats this year has confirmed the attacker’s importance to the Stadium of Light outfit; it remains to be seen whether he will stay or move on to a top six club.

CM: With a mass of players to choose from, the first central midfielder is Moussa Dembele from Fulham. He is quickly becoming integral in the Cottagers’ set up and seems another player with potential for the big time. Martin Jol’s men have had a steady season, and with Dembele providing athleticism, stamina, tackling, and scoring an occasional goal, he really is a lynchpin in the side.

CM: Yohan Cabaye – With Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse hogging the headlines, the strikers’ supply line can be overlooked. Cabaye is a critical member of Alan Pardew’s starting XI, and the talented midfielder drives their possession game. With eight assists and four goals, the France international has been one of the signings of the season.

LM: This position goes to Juan Mata of Chelsea. His countryman David Silva has been phenomenal in Manchester City’s challenge for the title, but Mata at the other end of the country has provided 13 assists and 6 goals in Chelsea’s inconsistent season.

CF: Jermain Defoe – Despite starting on the bench in 20 games this year, Defoe has still contributed vital goals for Spurs. One of England’s deadliest finishers, the diminutive marksman may be looking for a move away from White Hart Lane if he is not assured more than a bit-part role for next term.

CF: Grant Holt – The Norwich City targetman has led the line for the newly-promoted side, scoring 14 goals this year, to keep the Canaries safely up on their return to the Premier League. A potential candidate for Euro 2012; as the second highest scoring Englishman in the top flight behind Wayne Rooney, Holt is sure to be in Roy Hodgson’s thoughts.

There were literally dozens of players to choose from when compiling this team; it was almost impossible to choose. We may be blessed with the Rooney’s, Bale’s, Aguero’s, and Van Persie’s, but the competitive nature of the league means there is a vast array of talent that can at times get overlooked.

By Stephen Reid

Tottenham: Easier April on paper for Harry Redknapp’s men

Tottenham will be glad to see the back of March and their tricky fixture list against some of the best sides in the Premier League. A stuttering period has been costly, with Spurs relinquishing their grip on third place and falling to fourth, behind Arsenal. However, with a more agreeable five fixtures in April, Harry Redknapp’s men will look to close the three-point gap on their bitter rivals and take back the automatic Champions League qualification place.

Swansea home

Tottenham take on the progressive Welsh side at home this Sunday, and will look to get back to winning ways in the league after only two points from their last five games in the division.

Brendan Rodgers has instilled an exciting passing style in the Liberty Stadium outfit, who have surpassed all expectations this season in their first season in the top flight. The Swans are generally better at home than on the road, but have nothing to lose and will go out to compete.

In Gylfi Sigurdssson the visitors have a dangerous attacking midfielder who can score goals also; Spurs must watch the on-loan Iceland international carefully. However, with the bulk of his players fit and available for selection, Harry Redknapp will urge his men to show their quality and get three points.

Sunderland away

Not an easy fixture by any means, Sunderland are always a tricky opponent in front of the passionate Stadium of Light crowd. The Wearside club looked like relegation contenders back in December, but new manager Martin O’Neill has given The Black Cats confidence and powered them up into the top half.

The Bantams have taken their foot off the pedal slightly in recent weeks, and Spurs will be buoyed on by Everton’s comprehensive 2-0 win over Sunderland away from home in the FA Cup quarter-finals. However, O’Neill will motivate his side to be at their best as they look to finish as high as possible in the league.

In James McClean the hosts have a tricky and fearless winger, who has lit the Premier League up in his debut season, whilst Stephane Sessegnon is difficult to mark as he plays in the hole between teams’ midfield and defence. Redknapp should adopt a three-man midfield and hope the likes of Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart can inspire the London side to victory.

Norwich home

Another home clash against a newly-promoted side, this on paper is a game Tottenham must win. Despite the relative inexperience of the Canaries’ players in the top flight, the Carrow Road club have, like Swansea, got their teeth into their campaign back in the big time and not looked out of place.

Paul Lambert’s men have already guaranteed their safety, and Tottenham will hope to catch Norwich cold after a long, hard season. At White Hart Lane the visitors will most likely set up a defensive line-up and look to counter on the break, so Spurs must be patient in attempts to breaks their opponents down.

Targetman Grant Holt will provide a threat in attack, and the bulky striker must be given little space by the Spurs centre half pairing. Enforcing some strong and fast like Younes Kaboul to counter Holt’s physicality may be a good move.

QPR away

London rivals QPR are fighting for their lives at the bottom of the Premier League, and are right in the mix with four other teams in the battle to avoid demotion to the Championship. Mark Hughes has a raft of January signings at his disposal, and the Loftus Road crowd will be desperate to pick up points.

Despite their position in the bottom three of the division, Rangers have shown some steel at home at times, beating Chelsea and overturning a two-goal deficit to get three points over Liverpool in a recent 3-2 win. The fact that the fixture is a London derby will also motivate the hosts.

The Hoops’ frontline of Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora has the ability to hurt any side, and the former France international in particular has the pedigree and experience to score goals. However, Spurs will look to get a grip of the game in midfield, and if they do so should be on top.

Blackburn home

A home game against Blackburn completes the Premier League schedule for April, and the White Hart Lane faithful will hope that their side have strung together wins and all but sealed their place in the top four by this point.

Rovers are likely to be panicking by the time this fixture comes around, and any team fighting to avoid relegation are dangerous to play towards the end of the season.  Steve Kean has given a relatively young group confidence, and they have the ability to spring a surprise; they have beaten both Manchester United and Arsenal this term.

The visitors’ hope will rest on veteran striker Yakubu and young prospect Junior Hoilett. The Nigerian has re-found his goal-scoring form this term, whilst Hoilett has an assurance on the ball that will most likely see him move to a bigger club in the summer.

All in all Tottenham will want to put their bad run of form behind them, and will believe that they have the ability to win all five of these games. Sunderland away will be the most difficult fixture, but it is imperative that at least all games at White Hart Lane result in three points for the hosts.

Published – Bleacher Report

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