There's been a lot of talk around Sunderland about who we might sign next. Will it be another striker to bolster our options? Or perhaps a left winger, what with the on and off again yawnfest that was pursuit of Charles N'Zogbia finally coming to an end? Perhaps a move for Alan Hutton? Who knows.
One area I'd like us to strengthen is the left back position. I'd like us to go out and sign a proper left back, and I'm not even fussed who to be honest. Just someone who is competent at the position, and have done it all their career without being a monumental spaztard.
However, this seems unlikely to happen, and judging by the pre-season so far, and the quotes from Steve Bruce suggest its a straight fight between Phil Bardsley and Kieran Richardson. I've come to accept that now. So which is the best amongst these two, and who should start the season in the position? I've had a look.Last year, Steve Bruce was keen to tell everyone as to his master-plan for Kieran Richardson - he was to be our new left back. Bruce even handed the Number 3 shirt as a signal of intent for the previous left winger.
We as fans kind of agreed, we shared the vision. I think most of us want Kieran to succeed at the club, as he seems a nice enough bloke and tries his hardest despite his limitations. Left back seemed a decent enough fit, and we'd seen the likes of Mickey Gray accomplish a similar feat with style.
Kieran started off as we expected really. A few lapses, a little weak in the tackle but plenty of gusto going forward. A very poor mans Ashley Cole if you will.
However that never really materialised, and upon injuring himself we went with a number of other options. Anton Ferdinand had a go, as did the eventual taker of his spot and arch-rival going into this season, Phil Bardsley.
Bardsley never really looked back and propelled himself towards the Player Of The Season award. An award often given to players who have been better than expected rather than the most outstanding player. If for example POTY was more of an American style 'MVP' award, I don't think anyone could consider Bardo our Most Valuable Player. Anyway, we're rambling now. He won, and most rightly so. If Titus Bramble or Asamoah Gyan had a full season, we might have been having a different conversation.
Bardsley performed very well. Even chipping in with a few goals and a confidence going forward we hadn't seen before, excelling in an unaccustomed position. As for Richardson, on his return from injury we saw him play centrally alongside Lee Cattermole, and perhaps in his best and most dangerous position of in behind Gyan. A particular highlight being his performance at Blackpool.
And so we head into the 2011/12 season unsure of what we are going to do with regards to the problematic position, but it appears to be a fight to the death between the two former Manchester United men.
Looking at some of the statistics from last season, they shocked me to be honest. Before we get down to things we must remember Bardsley played 10 more games than Richardson, so it may look a little squiffy, but the points remain.
The general consensus is that Bardsley is the better defender, whilst Richardson is better going forward. Lets look at those two situations, starting with defensively. Bardo made more tackles than Richardson on average per game with 2.7 vs 1.9. This however is not bad by Richardson considering he spent large parts of his 26 appearances in midfield. For comparison, Richardson's 1.9 is the same as Nedum Onuoha, who performed admirably at fullback.
Where Richardson was whupped by Bardsley was interceptions (1.8 vs 0.9) and clearances (1.7 vs 4.6). Strangely for Bardsley's supposed defensive ability, he was dribbled past the same amount of times as Richardson (0.4) and they blocked a similar amount of shots (PB 0.4 vs KR 0.3).
All things considered on that front it would appear to me that whilst Kieran has a few things to work on, he's not a million miles away. Certainly not as far as I had thought headed into researching this article.
Now for going forward, where we expect Richardson to hold the advantage. Remember to take into account the bits beforehand about Richardson in midfield. Ok, lets go.
Richardson managed both more goals (4 vs 3) and more assists (3 vs 1) than Bardsley. Richardson also had much more shots (1.4 vs 0.7) and much more success dribbling the ball with an average of 0.9 successful each game. This doesn't look that impressive, but take into consideration this is second only to Stephane Sessegnon in our squad. Bardsley languished behind with 0.3 per game.
Kieran also held the upper hand passing wise, with a higher percentage of passes completed (74% vs 69%) whilst also playing the ball long less often than Bardsley (1.6 vs 2.1). This last stat is much better for our style of play, as Gyan's forte is certainly not in the air.
In fact going forward the best Phil could muster in reply was having the same amount of succesful crosses per game at 0.4.
Lastly, the thing which cannot really be measured by stats, but is perhaps the most important of all... Kieran's left footed. Now before I hear another barrage of "B-b-b-but Bardsley was POTY"... yes he was, and he did a fine job for a season. However, it's clearly more beneficial to the side to have players who are on their correct side by nature. Having a winger cutting in is a very different story to a fullback.
There's always the possibility however John O'Shea will have something to say on both the full-back fronts. O'Shea lies somewhere in between, althoguh he did play the least amount of all three at left back last season (JOS 5, PB 29, KR 7). O'Shea is also better getting forward than the both Richardson & Bardsley. A higher crossing success rate of 0.6 per game, 3 assists, and a greater passisng success in 80% completed. It's difficult to compare tackling success for O'Shea, having played at Manchester United last season, he was rarely on the back foot. It's worth noting however he was dribbled past more often than both Richardson and Bardsley, 0.6 times per game.
If we have wingers who aren't going to hug the touchline, perhaps it will be David Vaughan, perhaps it will be someone else. Perhaps even it will be a narrow three, we're not sure at the moment. Either way for that to work effectively we need a defender who will overlap down the outside - something Bardsley isn't too keen on. Bardsley's one-footedness was obvious to see to everyone last season, luckily the opposition didn't really notice, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they will.
I was surprised somewhat at the outpouring of people saying Richardson must get the place, but now I'm seeing why. I think he could have the left back position sewn up until an inevitable injury, leaving O'Shea and Bardsley to duel for right back with Wes Brown & Ahmed Elmohamady. It's going to be very difficult to predict the starting defence, but by God I'm happy we have these options!
Who do you want to start the season at left-back? Take part in our poll!
Who should start the season at left back?
Kieran Richardson (62 votes)
Phil Bardsley (41 votes)
John O'Shea (22 votes)
Other (5 votes)
130 total votes