Sunderland find themselves in a familiar position at the bottom of the table after a bad start. There was hope that David Moyes could carry on the good work that was done by Sam Allardyce, but the limited pre-season and lack of investment has given him an uphill task. After six matches, he has picked up one point and the pressure is already starting to build.
This weekend, they gave up a two goal lead to lose against Crystal Palace and they are now second favourites for relegation with the bookies. They have experience battling at the bottom of the league, but it will be tough for them as the Premier League has become more competitive.
Their key man is still Jermain Defoe and he has started the season in good form. The striker is now 33 and getting towards the end of his career, but he remains a predator in the penalty area. On Saturday, he was excellent and gave his side a two-goal lead, which should have been enough to earn Sunderland their first three points of the season. However, the defence remains a weakness and that is the area that is holding the team back. Although Defoe is one of the best goal-scorers in the league, he isn’t good enough to carry a side that is conceding an average of two goals per game.
As a lone front-man, Defoe doesn’t have the physical presence to dominate defences and has lost some of the pace that he once had, but he has adapted his game accordingly. He has learned to use his movement effectively and still has good acceleration over short distances. Although he no longer has blistering pace, he is intelligent in the final third and that was evident on Saturday, as he managed to find space to score two goals, using speed of thought over the first few yards to outwit defenders.
He looks sharp this season and both goals came as a result of his awareness in the opposition penalty area. It is encouraging for Sunderland fans that Defoe has already scored four goals this term, but the club should have brought in somebody to share the goal burden. He has scored all but one of Sunderland’s league goals this season, which emphasises how they are over-reliant on the 33-year-old. During the match against Crystal Palace, Defoe took six of the North East outfit’s eleven shots – another example of how he is the only real goal threat in the side.
Defoe works hard for the team and contributes when his side are out of possession. On Saturday, he was constantly putting the Palace defence under pressure and didn’t give them time to pick a pass. He made one tackle and one interception, which showed that he can retrieve the ball in good areas. Sunderland are unlikely to dominate possession in many matches this season, which is why it is crucial that every player in the team works hard off the ball. Although Defoe is getting on towards the twilight of his career, he doesn’t shy away from contributing defensively and he has to be applauded for that.
It is going to take another giant effort from Sunderland to stay in the division after an awful summer of recruitment. The managerial change came at the worst possible time and David Moyes is yet to find his strongest eleven. Jermain Defoe doesn’t have many years left at the highest level, but he remains central to Sunderland’s survival hopes.
If he continues to score goals at the same rate he has done over the last 12 months, he will give Sunderland a chance of staying in the Premier League. However, he cannot keep them up alone and Moyes needs to organise the side better. If they keep things tight at the back, Defoe will have a platform to fire Sunderland to another season of Premier League football.
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