When Sam Allardyce was appointed manager at Sunderland, I assumed this was bad news for DeAndre Yedlin. The American right back made his first appearance for his loan club in Dick Advocaat’s final match in charge, but he seemed a poor fit under Big Sam.
Big Sam is not famed as a developer of young talent, and his managerial success has been built on his ability to quickly organise a struggling team defensively. This normally involves turning to experienced players, who should in theory know what they are doing if the system is right.
At right back, Sunderland have Billy Jones, who as played 377 matches for different English clubs, and Adam Matthews, who made nearly 200 appearances for Cardiff and Celtic before joining Sunderland in the summer. One would have guessed that one of these two would have been chosen by Big Sam ahead of Yedlin, who has less than 80 first-team appearances for club and country in his career to date.
But so far, Big Sam has picked Yedlin in each of his four games in charge. Yedlin was played in right midfield against Everton, a shambolic 6-2 defeat, but was back at right back the following game when Sunderland lost 1-0 at home against Southampton.
It has been reported that Matthews, who has played just once since joining Sunderland, has already been told he can leave. Billy Jones is now playing left back. It seems, Yedlin has earned a chance for an extended run at right back.
The only concern is that Yedlin missed two potentially vital weeks of Big Sam Boot Camp this international break while playing for the USA in World Cup qualifiers against St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago (and I thought England playing in Alicante was a nice trip). It always felt, personally, that Yedlin continuously being called away for international duty cost him a chance to impress Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs, but hopefully this doesn’t set him back at Sunderland.
Sunderland will surely be looking to bring in new players in January, but they have needs across the pitch. The less they have to spend on right backs, the more they get to spend on strikers and creative players. (I’m making an early call that Andros Townsend ends up at Sunderland in January. Adam Johnson is on trial for child sex offences in February, and if found guilty he may be jailed. Townsend would be an obvious replacement.)
I watched the Tyne-Wear derby where Sunderland beat Newcastle 3-0. This was a big test for Yedlin, probably his biggest match since playing in the World Cup. I thought he was excellent defensively — his positioning was good, he was aggressive in winning the ball, and he didn’t give the ball away. When Newcastle threatened, it was down Sunderland’s left flank, which struggled early on with Daryl Janmaat.
The view from Sunderland fans on Reddit is fairly positive. On a recent thread about Yedlin, views ranged from “I think he is doing great” to “Okay overall” to “He’s no Phil Bardsley”. That last one may be a compliment.
Yedlin this week spoke to SI’s Grant Wahl, and it was an interesting read. It sounded like the Sunderland experience was helping him grow on and off the pitch — which was exactly the point of him being sent up there.
Under new manager Sam Allardyce at Sunderland, Yedlin said the team has been playing more direct than he’s been used to, forcing him to focus more on defending than usual. But he added that’s a good thing, since defending is “the part of my game that needs the most work.”
Now that he’s playing in Premier League games at Sunderland, Yedlin said he feels like everything is starting to fall into place. Spurs coaches have kept in touch with him, and he’s looking forward to playing the rest of the season with Sunderland, then returning to Spurs and competing for a spot in the team.
Sunderland may not have been where Yedlin envisaged he’d end up after moving from Seattle, but there is a huge opportunity for him. It is great to read that he appears to be embracing it.
Kyle Walker has been hugely impressive this season for Spurs, and is cementing his position as first-choice. But he has a history of injuries, and Spurs hopefully have learned the lesson of not having sufficient cover at full back. Walker’s back-up, Kieran Trippier, hasn’t impressed in his Europa League appearances so far, making several big errors.
Danny Rose proved that good performances on loan at Sunderland can be a pathway to a first-team place at Spurs, which should be all the incentive that Yedlin requires. Early days, but I’m not writing Yedlin off as another Franco Baldini bust quite yet.