Sunderland skipper John O'Shea relishing competition for places
David Moyes' midfield options may be limited but he has a selection headache of a different kind at the back.
Skipper John O’Shea and Lamine Kone forged a strong partnership against the relentless tide of red at Anfield last weekend, Liverpool eventually proving too strong for a resolute Sunderland side.
But with Papy Djilobodji returning from a one-match suspension, Moyes has a decision to make at the heart of his defence.
Does he keep faith with the back four that didn’t put a foot wrong against Jurgen Klopp’s title-chasing side?
Or does he bring Djilobodji, who yesterday celebrated his 28th birthday, back into the fold?
Veteran O’Shea is relishing the competition for a starting place in central defence ahead of a critical period of the season.
Bottom-of-the-table Sunderland have three out of their next four Premier League games on home soil ahead of the busy festive period, with the Black Cats fully aware of the need to maintain their newly found momentum.
“We have always been getting our best results when we have had competition for places,” said O’Shea.
“The manager had spoken about it just before we trained [before Liverpool].
“He said everybody will be needed because of the spell of games coming up and how many there are.
“When you are selected for the team be ready, it could be a surprise if you don’t think you are getting a chance and then you do.
“So, everybody has to be ready.
“We always get our best results when we do have competition for places.”
Competition for places may be strong at the back, but Moyes has fewer bodies to choose from in midfield.
Lee Cattermole is out for up to four months after hip surgery, Paddy McNair is likely to miss the rest of the season with Lynden Gooch the latest midfield casualty after he injured his left ankle in the Under-23 draw with Tottenham Hotspur.
Seb Larsson is back but Jan Kirchhoff is not yet ready for a return to the side.
With numbers depleted, defender-turned-midfielder Jason Denayer has proved a valuable asset in recent weeks, seamlessly stepping into the breach to provide cover in midfield.
The Manchester City loanee was deployed in a holding midfield role against Hull City and Liverpool.
Versatile Denayer is a defender at heart, with Moyes seeing centre-back as his likely long-term role.
But the 21-year-old Belgian, who has previously enjoyed successful loan spells at Celtic and Galatasaray before heading to Wearside, is set to continue in midfield given the injuries.
Denayer’s performances have caught the eye of his fellow teammates, impressed with his recent energetic displays.
“His performances have been very important to the team,” added captain O’Shea.
“He is not a natural midfielder, he is more of a say defender where he has learned in his early parts of his career at Celtic and Galatasaray.
“His natural ability on the ball has been able to allow the manager to use him as a midfield option.
“It just shows and credit to the player himself.
“His natural ability, he is able to cope with it and he is a good athlete too.
“Didier [Ndong] has settled in too.
“We have Jan and Seb coming back too into the frame and that experience will be crucial to the team in the coming weeks and months.”