Grading the Sunderland Players Against Tottenham
In the first fixture of the Asia Trophy, Tottenham and Sunderland warmed up for their Premier League seasons in some torrential Hong Kong weather, with the Black Cats proving the more fortunate on this occasion.
Paolo Di Canio’s side emerged from the awful conditions with a 3-1 victory in hand and looked very impressive for the most part, seemingly benefitting from the tough training regime implemented by their Italian boss.
Along with a great team display, Sunderland contributed with some fine individual performances during their win, with all of Di Canio’s men graded ahead.
Goalkeeper: Vito Mannone
There was little Vito Mannone could have done to prevent conceding his first goal against Premier League opposition after watching Gylfi Sigurdsson’s deflected drive elude him in the first half.
The Icelandic international was fortunate to see his effort go in as Mannone was largely impressive in his showing.
The 25-year-old was subject to increased pressure in the second half after the Black Cats’ defence took their foot off the pedal slightly, but responded very well to the challenge.
Jermain Defoe tested Mannone twice in quick succession, the Italian saving both efforts as well as tipping over an Emmanuel Adebayor shot in the harsh conditions.
All in all, Mannone showed reason for Sunderland to feel slightly more confident about Simon Mignolet’s departure to Liverpool.
Right-Back: Craig Gardner
Continuing on in his right-back responsibilities, Craig Gardner did well to support Adam Johnson in attack and will have been as pleased as any to hear that Gareth Bale would be absent for the meeting.
The 26-year-old has been reported by Sky Sports’ Pete O’Rourke as a target for several Premier League outfits, but with some uncertainty remaining over Sunderland’s full-backs, Gardner remains a safe option right now.
Gardner’s defensive abilities remain the weakest part of his game, but that aspect wasn’t particularly evident on Wednesday.
Left-Back: Jack Colback
Another midfielder-come-defender playing outside of his more natural role, Jack Colback stood up well to the challenge of Aaron Lennon for the most part in Hong Kong.
That being said, the Sunderland product did find the majority of Tottenham’s attack coming down his flank, highlighting that position as a key one in need of improvement.
However, Colback’s versatility allows him to do a job even when out of position, but perhaps not stand out as particularly exciting in that regard.
Centre-Back: John O’Shea
Always a safe option for Sunderland, John O’Shea was the no-nonsense option for the Black Cats against Tottenham and took most of the defensive duties as his own, hardly stepping out of position.
Coping well with the threat of Emmanuel Adebayor and later Jermain Defoe, Andre Villas-Boas’ men found it difficult to gain space around the Irish veteran, who provided his side with a reliable platform at the centre of their defence.
Centre-Back: Wes Brown
Sunderland’s Man of the Match, it was Wes Brown’s goal which initially gave the Black Cats their first lead of the match.
The former Manchester United man did fantastically to get on the goal side of his marker, craning his neck well to direct a powerful header past a helpless Brad Friedel.
The Englishman hardly put a foot wrong in defence either and looked great for the Black Cats upon his return to fitness both in attack and at the back.
Central Midfield: Cabral
Having only arrived from FC Basel last month, Paolo Di Canio can be pleased more with the performance of Cabral than any other summer signing.
The 24-year-old latched onto the end of a Jozy Altidore pass in the first half, pouncing through on goal before sliding a neat finish past Brad Friedel to equalise for his new side.
Aside from that, Cabral put in a lot of graft in Sunderland’s engine room, coping well with the conditions to break up a heap of Spurs possession, distributing well in the process.
Central Midfield: Sebastian Larsson
Playing in a slightly unfamiliar central role, Seb Larsson’s playmaking prowess shone through, but a lack of defensive positioning was evident in the Swede’s contribution.
Withdrawn for El-Hadji Ba in the second period, Larsson’s natural ability as a wide player was quite evident in his link-up play with Stephane Sessegnon, but Cabral may have appreciated a helping hand at times where Larsson couldn’t perhaps offer it.
Right Midfield: Adam Johnson
Although it works in his favour a lot of the time, Adam Johnson’s fondness for cutting inside to his favoured left foot became a pattern of predictable proportions against Spurs and one Danny Rose found it easy to cope with for the large part.
The Spurs left-back of course has the advantage of having worked with Johnson last season, but the former Manchester City man's ingenuity could still do with some work at times.
That said, Johnson did help in laying on a decent supply of ammunition for his side, but a better conversion rate will still be a priority for the winger.
Left Midfield: Emanuele Giaccherini
As Paolo Di Canio’s most expensive signing as Sunderland manager thus far, Emanuel Giaccherini’s display against Tottenham wasn’t quite of the standard fans will be hoping to see at the Stadium of Light this season.
That isn’t to say the Italian was bad, but Giaccherini’s tendency to waste the ball under pressure will need to improve if Di Canio’s lauding of his ability is to be proven true in the near future.
In fairness, the conditions weren’t helping anyone in Hong Kong, but the former Juventus attacker showed a good thirst to beat Kyle Walker down his right flank, with his ability in dribbling to the byline one of the biggest positives in his outing.
Supporting Striker: Stephane Sessegnon
Just as he did alongside Steven Fletcher for most of last season, Stephane Sessegnon partnered Jozy Altidore as the catalyst between Sunderland’s midfield and attack.
The Benin international has had a strong preseason so far, but didn’t come to the fore in his performance against Spurs in as strong a fashion.
Against Scott Parker and Tom Huddletsone, Sessegnon struggled to find space in behind the Tottenham midfield but made good use of the ball on the occasions that he did.
Striker: Jozy Altidore
Another debutant to the Sunderland cause, it was Jozy Altidore’s hard work around the Tottenham defence, applying pressure where necessary, that opened the chance for Cabral’s equaliser.
Apart from that one injection of pace from the U.S. international, Altidore did a good job of holding the ball up, bringing his fellow attackers into the fold, but also showing enough dynamicity to create chances independently.
Brad Friedel turned down a raft of Altidore chances which, while on target, just lacked the accuracy to get past his compatriot.
David Moberg Karlsson
David Moberg Karlsson, another Sunderland summer signing, did superbly to latch onto a lofted through ball before finishing low past Brad Friedel for Sunderland's third.
The Swede has had an impressive preseason and continues to show why he may yet challenge for a starting place this season.
Coming on late in the second half, Connor Wickham’s frame was his biggest weapon in the time that he did have on the pitch, troubling Friedel in the Tottenham box through sheer size more than anything else.
Losing his place to Emanuele Giaccherini, James McCLean shelved some of his more selfish tendencies in an effort to make an impact off the bench.
The Irishman didn’t really have the time to inject any real threat into matters though.
Yet another Sunderland new boy, Valtnin Roberge came on in the place of Wes Brown and fulfilled a similar responsibility in his short cameo appearance, fending Jermain Defoe off well alongside John O’Shea.
Slightly more defensively orientated than Seb Larsson might be, El-Hadji Ba was a good presence for Di Canio to be able to bring off the bench, seeing the result through in its final minutes with an assured display.