David Moyes has seen signs of increased defensive nous from Patrick van Aanholt – but insists there is still room for improvement.
Moyes says the Sunderland coaching staff are on the left-back’s case “big time” in training when it comes to working on the defensive side of his game.
There is no doubting his attacking ability, with van Aanholt the club’s third top scorer with two goals this season.
The flying Dutchman has linked up well with Victor Anichebe down Sunderland’s left flank, effectively doubling up as winger at times with the pair bullying Danny Simpson in the win over Leicester City.
But Moyes still wants to see more from the 26-year-old when Sunderland are having to defend, especially when it comes to cutting out crosses and defending the back post.
“I have seen bits of improvement,” Moyes said.
“We have had to dig him out at times and we are on his case big time.
“Against Liverpool we saw an awful lot of things we didn’t like.
“He has great ability going forward and we want him to keep doing that, we want our full backs to be attacking, we want them to join in and give us width at times.
“But their first job is to make sure they are good defenders and they stop crosses and to make sure they are at the back post to defend balls in from the opposite side of the pitch.
“So, he needs telling regularly and we keep on at him.
“But he has been better in recent games, he has steadied a bit.”
Van Aanholt was dropped for the Premier League game against West Bromwich Albion back at the start of October due to concerns about his defending.
But he came off the bench that day to salvage a point with a late goal and has been an ever present ever since, playing an important role in the club’s recent upturn in fortunes.
Sunderland have beaten Bournemouth, Hull City and champions Leicester in recent weeks, with van Aanholt twice clearing off the line against Hull to help achieve the first clean sheet.
The introduction of Anichebe into the starting line-up has been key, with the powerful forward often deployed wide left, with van Aanholt overlapping.
The pair have struck up an instant understanding over the past month.
One of Sunderland’s trademark moves has been van Aanholt bursting forward, playing the ball into Anichebe, who then holds it up with his back to goal before laying it off to a teammate in and around the penalty area.
It has reaped rewards in the recent run of three wins from four Premier League games ahead of this weekend’s relegation six-pointer against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium.