Jozy Altidore has been quoted praising himself and cursing Sunderland’s luck for the start of this season. The United States international has scored zero league goals, assisted zero league goals and generally not made a massive impact since returning to the Premier League after an enormously successful spell in Holland. I have to be pretty blunt here, I am afraid there is not much substance which I can use to back up Jozy’s claims.
“I feel like I’m playing well at Sunderland. We just have some bad luck right now, but I feel like I’m playing well and doing things right.”
I mean his comments aren’t exactly staggering or astonishing, more the typical spiel which most out-of-sorts strikers feed to the press for an easy news day. But, based purely on his opening six games, he looks a shadow of the player Steven Fletcher is.
If we start a little statistically, Sunderland have not exactly been shot shy despite our current plight – averaging at 13 shots a game (probably the pinnacle we managed under Martin O’Neill). Altidore averages less than two from his six appearances, which does include one from the substitute’s bench. His pass completion % is the lowest of our outfield players excluding Connor Wickham, he has made no through balls, makes no successful dribbles and as far as being dispossessed goes only Ki Sung-Yeung and Steven Fletcher beat him.
He is a big guy though, wins plenty in the air, holds the play up nicely and brings his teammates into the attack effectively – right? Well, I am afraid there is not a great deal to back that up either. Altidore has won just 36% of his aerial duals. Seldom do you witness him hold onto the ball, he likes to try a quick flick or first time pass which might at times look great, but it has never led to a great deal and judging on his poor passing he does not seem to be doing it well.
Okay, so at the moment we know that he has not scored a league goal, he struggles with his passing, he doesn’t win many in the air, he is not great at linking the play, he loses possession often, doesn’t dribble or create much – so he is a poor player, right? I find this is the bit where I start to argue with myself.
Altidore is not a poor player, but a player who moved from a lightening quick team in AZ Alkmaar to a football team who have the illusion of pace, but we don’t really have any pace at all. He is a player who thrives in a counter-attack, an impact player and yet our counter-attacks are as lethal as ketchup. The fact is, Jozy struggles to retain possession and find a teammate because his teammates struggle to labour over the half way line after winning possession. It gets quite dull watching the same situation at the Stadium of Light, as the ball breaks to our midfield or wingers after sustained pressure from the opposition and the immediate thought is to pass it sideways or knock it to Altidore and just stroll leisurely up the pitch.
The bad thing for Altidore is, I don’t expect us to be any better at counter attacking under Gus Poyet. What I do expect to see is when we win possession the immediate thought will be to retain it and out-number the opposition wherever possible to make it difficult for them to get the ball back. Whether Altidore would thrive under a possession-heavy football side is something I would not like to rule out but it would surprise me. He isn’t a Ricky Lambert or Michu who have already blossomed under similar structures.
The fact is, under Poyet, Altidore will probably find himself on the bench watching Fletcher hold and maintain the lone striker role. The American may well have to settle for being the impact substitute and with that you would expect his expensive arrival on Wearside to be pretty short-lived. Hope I am wrong, seems a stand-up guy – probably brings in a fair bit of revenue being a big name in the US too.
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