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Championship

Mousa Dembele links from 2015 highlight Sunderland’s plight this week

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Sunderland’s hopes of survival in the Championship are fading fast. The Black Cats were comfortably beaten 3-0 at home by Villa last night to continue their miserable season. The appointment of former Wales boss Chris Coleman has not changed their fortunes and currently Sunderland stare down the barrel of Championship relegation.

Tonight, Tottenham Hotspur take on Juventus in the Champions League. One man who will be expected to star yet again will be Mousa Dembele. He tore Juventus apart in the first-leg and has done similar against some of the best midfielders in the Premier League all season.

Sunderland fans will be aghast at the fact, just three years ago, their side tried to sign the Belgian.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 02: Players of Sunderland react after Reading scored their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sunderland and Reading at Stadium of Light on December 2, 2017 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

Back in the summer of 2015 Sunderland had just survived another relegation battle. Dick Advocaat was manager and the club wanted to stay well away from the bottom of the table.

Dembele therefore emerged as a transfer target and one that looked likely. He was struggling for form and fitness at Tottenham Hotspur at the time and Sunderland felt they could get hold of the player. It was reported by the Mirror that Sunderland were keen on the player, who had started just 10 games in the previous season, after signing his Spurs team-mate Younes Kaboul. The Daily Star went on to suggest Tottenham wanted a fee of £15 million for the player which, in hindsight, looks a bargain.

But Sunderland never got their man. They survived relegation by the skin of their teeth again that season, and were eventually relegated the season after.

Now Sunderland are being thrashed at home by Villa and looking at a place in the third-tier of English football next season. Meanwhile Dembele has more than rewarded Mauricio Pochettino’s faith in him. He is set to go head-to-head with Juventus in the Champions League yet again this evening.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 16: Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur and Jeremain Lens of Sunderland compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland at White Hart Lane on January 16, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Not many analogies sum up the reduction in ambition and performance at Sunderland more than their pursuit of Dembele less than three years ago.

Sunderland have gone from being linked with currently one of the most in-form midfielders in Europe, to picking over the debris of another home mauling. All of this in in less than three seasons.

Sunderland fans deserve better. They deserve what Tottenham get from Dembele and co week-in and week-out. Hopefully, with relegation looking likely, they can press the reset button. In three years time, perhaps Sunderland will be amazed at their rise from such a lowly position.

Aston Villa

Aston Villa will be rewarded for their patience by holding onto young defender

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Photo: Getty Images.

Signed in January on loan from Manchester United, it’s fair to say that Axel Tuanzebe has not quite lived up to expectations at Villa Park with only five league appearances since moving to Birmingham.

The full-back has completed 90 minutes only once since his loan signing and is yet to impress Steve Bruce sufficiently to earn a regular spot in the side, having made back to back starts only once.

Despite that, The Sun say that it is likely that regardless of whether the Villans are promoted or not in the summer, Tuanzebe will remain on loan at Aston Villa next season.

The reports suggest that he will join Manchester United for their pre-season tour of the US for Jose Mourinho to re-evaluate the defender, who he gave a Premier League debut to in May 2017, before opting to send him out on loan.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

That a host of top flight and second tier clubs are still interested despite him not convincing for Villa says a lot about Tuanzebe’s potential. Steve Bruce is a good judge of player potential too, and if he is keen to retain his services then it is for a reason.

Strong in the tackle yet quick, Tuanzebe did not look out of place among the elite when he made his United debut against Arsenal and has not many any clear errors whilst on loan at Villa either.

By sticking with their man, Villa will reap the rewards in the long-term. At Championship level with a full pre-season and regular football behind him, Tuanzebe could easily stake his claim and begin to fulfill his potential.

If Villa are promoted, it’s hard to see how Tuanzebe will become first choice, but he will come cheap and is certainly an interesting option to have amongst the ranks.

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Derby County

Thriving in America, ex-Derby star Johnny Russell deserves a Scotland recall

The forward has been in fine form since his move to MLS.

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Johnny Russell
Photo: Getty Images

Johnny Russell has been setting Major League Soccer on fire this spring, most recently bagging a hat-trick against Vancouver Whitecaps on the weekend to take his goal tally to five in eight matches.

Russell controversially left Derby County for Sporting Kansas City in January, but his impressive form in America should convince Alex McLeish to recall the 28-year-old to the Scotland set-up.

After 182 appearances and 30 goals over five years at Pride Park, the winger departed England for a shock move to Sporting Kansas City in MLS.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

The winger had scored five goals and provided two assists in the first half of the 2017/18, yet left the Rams just 12 days after playing 90 minutes in their 0-0 draw with Bristol City in late January.

Yet the Scot has been thriving across the Atlantic and showed his devastating finishing qualities during Kansas City’s 6-0 demolition of Vancouver on 20 April.

Russell’s first goal was a lashed first-time finish from the edge of the box after receiving an intelligent cutback, and just six minutes later he had doubled his goal haul.

The winger cut in with precision from the left wing and drove past multiple defenders before slotting home a low drive at the near post. It was a wonderful individual goal that was a fine reward for his rampant opening quarter of the match.

(Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

And his third goal was perhaps the pick of the bunch. Russell took a short corner from the right wing, exchanged a one-two and delicately chipped the ball from a tight angle over the keeper.

The 28-year-old’s sublime hat-trick is evidence of his unique talents, and although his exploits have come in a weakened league, they are deserving of praise nonetheless.

With upcoming away friendlies approaching in Peru and Mexico in late May, McLeish should strongly consider granting Russell his first cap since 2015.

Given the geographic proximity and the winger’s outstanding form, Johnny Russell seems set to feature for his country in the midst of his American revival.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves must not let success stunt the progress of Morgan Gibbs-White

The England youth international has a bright future ahead of him in the game.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers will be playing Premier League football again next season. Nuno Espirito Santo has led the club to the Championship summit and top-flight football now awaits.

It is certainly what they deserve after a brilliant campaign. Wolves have been by far the most consistent team in the second-tier and whilst the likes of Cardiff City, Fulham and Aston Villa have tried, none have managed to keep up.

Of course, much of their success has been down to the investment from the Fosun Group. Together with a partnership with Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes, Wolves have brought in some excellent talent at Championship level.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The likes of Ruben Neves, Diego Jota and Willy Boly are all Premier League standard and Wolves have relished in their presence.

But this should be a concern for one 18-year-old talent. Morgan Gibbs-White is one of England’s brightest talents. The midfielder has been tipped for greatness at Wolves and has shown his ability with the England youth set-up. Last summer, he played a key role as England’s under-17s won the World Cup in India.

The performances of Gibbs-White had tongues wagging in the summer and he has been involved for Wolves this season. Gibbs-White has played 13 times for Wolves and looks a real talent for the future.

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

But this summer the Fosun Group and Mendes will be looking to bring some more talent to Molineux ahead of an assault on the Premier League. Rightly so. If Wolves are to stay in the top-flight, investment will be necessary.

However, in the form of Gibbs-White, the club already have a player who looks capable of playing at this level. The teenager is a top talent who should not simply be pushed aside by Wolves as they seek to assemble a side full of foreign talent.

Wolves are ambitious and wealthy so new faces are bound to arrive. But the club must make sure there is a space for a young talent like Gibbs-White to thrive in the future.

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