RICKY Alvarez will be the first name on the Sunderland team-sheet for today’s pivotal relegation tussle against Aston Villa.
On-loan Inter Milan midfielder Alvarez increasingly looks to be a pivotal figure in Sunderland’s bid to secure their Premier League status, with fellow widemen Emanuele Giaccherini and Will Buckley injured, and Adam Johnson subject to a club suspension amidst an ongoing police investigation.
The Argentine international was limited to a substitute’s outing in Sunderland’s draw at Hull last week after the latest in a series of niggling injuries had limited his involvement in full training.
But Alvarez is now fully fit and will be given the chance against Villa to thrive as the most creative player in the Sunderland line-up.
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet said: “Ricky is playing, for sure, because he offers something different to the rest.
“He made a good effort last week. People wondered why he was on the bench, but he didn’t train one day – just 20 minutes before the game.
“He wasn’t really fit to play the game for 90 minutes and I was expecting a very difficult first half.
“Then of course, he came on, made the difference, and it looked very easy.
“Now he is going to be in from the beginning.
“I think he likes the responsibility. He would like to be playing week-in, week-out, training every day.
“At the moment we haven’t achieved that, which has gone against his level of performing in the whole season.
“But my idea today is to play him as long as we can. I don’t know whether he will last 45, 60, 75 or 90 minutes – I don’t think Ricky knows.
“Then I’ll need to adapt, because there is not an obvious substitution.”
Alvarez’s contribution over the final 10 games could prove decisive in the 26-year-old’s hopes of his loan move being converting into a permanent switch during the summer.
There has been fresh speculation in Italy this week that Sunderland have been in talks with Inter over a fee for Alvarez, with a £7.5million figure built into the loan contract last summer.
Poyet remains coy over the chances of Alvarez remaining at the Stadium of Light, but stresses that everyone’s future is on the line at the club, with Sunderland only four points clear of the bottom three.
“I think everybody is playing for their future, without exaggerating things,” he added.
“The players need to realise that.
“We are all under contract but we are at a club that deserves to be in the Premier League and we need to do it, every single one of us.”