This week's Make Your Case tries to find a home for Kieran Richardson.
Afternoon everyone, welcome along for another edition of Make Your Case, where two of our writers go head to head on a topic of their choosing, leaving you the general public to decide the winner.
In this weeks Make Your Case we look at Kieran Richardson, and argue the toss about where he best fits into the Sunderland team. He's been used here, there and everywhere since he signed for the club, and we're still yet to decide exactly what to do with him.
With that in mind, Dan Williams and Chris Weatherspoon go head to head to argue about where they think Richardson can be the most effective for us...
Dan Williams: Richardson Should Be In Midfield
The curious case of Kieran Richardson, eh?
It's important to remember that we didn't sign Richardson as a left back, we signed him as the exciting attacking midfielder that he can be. Fans of West Brom will no doubt sing his praises as he was instrumental in notching the goals that allowed them their 'great escape'.
Although it seems like a lifetime ago, Richardson is a player that scored twice on his international debut against the USA, and he has regularly scored important goals for us too. That was, until Steve 'king of the tactics' Bruce decided that he wanted to nullify his attacking threat by moving him into the defence.
Cast your minds back to Darren Bent's unceremonious departure from the North East. Sunderland fans panicked en masse, but within days were left asking the question 'Darren who?' as Richardson notched three times in two games. Although the details escape me now, he also had a stunning pre-season playing in behind a frontman, scoring almost for fun before the main event kicked off.
Unfortunately for Richardson, the place behind the striker has been well and truly claimed by our Benin magician Sessegnon, but while we're all crying out for an attacking player to sign on the right-hand side of our seemingly new 4-3-3 formation, Richardson could be perfect there. While McClean would bomb down the left, whipping in crosses, Kieran could provide an equal threat coming in from the right wing onto his left peg, causing teams a whole new set of issues when it comes to marking him. Also, as Martin O'Neill has spoken of his desire to have another winger that can swap positions with Jimmy, the combination of two left-footers will be something of a novelty for us, therefore making it difficult to defend against.
By playing Richardson at left back, you are admittedly making the most of his pace, but you are robbing him of any creativity, and the chance to pepper the opposition goal. He's shown in the past that he has bags of composure in one-on-one situations, and his pace will always mean that any slow defenders will be left chasing his shadow if the opportunity arises for a through ball.
If he was to play in behind the striker, wouldn't you all rather have him taking potshots at the opposition that Craig 'just close your eyes and hit it' Gardner? I know who I would back to score more goals.
Richardson never wanted to be a left back. He's the type of player that can influence a game, and that is being wasted by asking him to concentrate on defensive duties. While his place at left back may have more to do with the other options there, rather than his actual suiting to the position, I, for one, would rather see him pushed further up the park again, unleashing the potential that he has always shown as an attacking force, yet has never quite realised.
Plus, and this is just for Michael Graham, he's not even a 'natural' left back. Wouldn't we benefit from having a natural one in the team, instead?
Chris Weatherspoon: Richardson Should Be At Left-Back
On face value, the arguments against Kieran Richardson playing at left-back are fairly compelling. After all, he was signed by Roy Keane not as a defender, but as a man who would offer Sunderland extra attacking options.
And, for much of his spell on Wearside, he has done just that. Though often deployed wide left, his most impressive midfield performances have came when the former Manchester United man was selected in a more central role, playing off a lone striker. Braces against Portsmouth in 2008 and then Blackpool in 2011 spring immediately to mind.
Yet, Richardson's role in the Sunderland midfield has all but expired. His versatility is an admirable trait, and one which will no doubt be utilised across the season and beyond, but his primary role should now undoubtedly consist of him in defence, linking up with James McClean ahead of him.
There are multiple reasons for this, but let us start with the most obvious: there simply isn't room for Richardson to play regularly further up the field.
The "hole" role has been filled. Stephane Sessegnon is arguably the most gifted technical football ever to don the red and white stripes, and not even the most devoted of Richardson's supporters would argue their man should displace the Benin international.
Behind Sessegnon the requirement is for two more combative midfielders - not a role Richardson is suited to. James McClean has the left side of midfield sewn up.
There could perhaps be an opportunity for Richardson on the right wing, but this would then lead to a whole host of problems with the team's balance. Firstly, playing a left-footer on the right - and especially one not suited to the position - would likely see attacks down that side follow the similar vein of Richardson cutting inside. Simply, this would make the job of the opposing defence far easier.
Furthermore, removing Richardson from left-back would likely see him replaced by Phil Bardsley - a right-footed player. This would hardly help with the side's balance, and it seems wholly illogical when we consider that Seb Larsson can still do a more than able job at right midfield.
Hence, by the process of elimination, left full-back is the only place Kieran Richardson should be expected to play on a regular basis. Placing him elsewhere in the side would mean removing another key individual, disrupting the side's balance, or both at once.
That is not to say, however, that Richardson is in the team without merit. Over the course of the past year or so, his defending has come on substantially. There are still the odd positional troubles - though many more experienced full-backs are no strangers to the same issues - but for the most part Richardson has become one of the club's most reliable performers. That Everton are seemingly keen on signing him (should Leighton Baines leave Merseyside) speaks volumes.
As well as having proven himself defensively capable, Richardson can still offer plenty going forward. In a modern game where the role of the full-back is increasingly a dual one, the prospect of a Richardson-McClean partnership on Sunderland's left is a tantalising one. McClean is never one to shirk his defensive responsibilities, and the two could feasibly build up a partnership reminiscent of Michael Gray and Allan Johnston in the late 1990s.
Of course, for this to happen, Richardson must be selected at left-back on a regular basis. There are far more glaring gaps in the Sunderland squad that need addressing than the left side of defence. Moving Richardson back into midfield would cause problems than it would solve.
Which side are you on following the arguments put forward by Dan and Chris? Make your vote heard in the poll below or leave a comment!
To which position do you feel Kieran Richardson is best suited?
In Midfield (32 votes)
In Defence (35 votes)
67 total votes