One man who seems destined to blossom under Gus Poyet is cultured centre back Valentin Roberge. Like most at Sunderland, his start to life on Wearside has been inconsistent but I see a very competent defender here – certainly more so than any other player we have in that position.
As we discovered last week during an extensive interview on Poyet’s tactics, a mobile and technical centre back is very important to the set-up which we expect our new head coach to deploy. In possession, Roberge would be expected (alongside whomever his partner might be) to anchor any attack, positioning himself slightly wider than maybe he is accustomed to so the angle of attack can easily be changed. Ideally, any defender must be light on his feet and have the ability to pick a pass – he has already shown us that this is a big part of his game.
Roberge generally looks for the short pass and has a healthy completion percentage this season of around 83%, something which would need to be maintained if he were to successfully integrate into Poyet’s plans.
Out of possession, Roberge would be expected to take up a narrowed position as his teammates flurry back to congest the defensive half of the pitch. Poyet likes his teams to be relatively, but not overly, aggressive in the tackle. Roberge has averaged at four tackles a game, conceding one foul amongst those, which again is a relatively encouraging statistic to draw from.
It is tough to dish out too much praise to a player who has only made three Premier League appearances for us, but if we take what we’ve got to look back on he does not strike me as an error-prone defender. He did completely lose his man against Fulham to allow Pajtim Kasami to win all three points for the Cottagers on the opening day of the season, but, such was our abysmal set-piece defensive record under Paolo Di Canio, you could argue his instructions were not the best.
Roberge’s best performance for us so far this season came in our last match against Manchester United where he looked very astute aerially and of his 18 defensive contributions within 20 yards of his goal – he was successful an impressive 16 times. He looked head and shoulders above his defensive partner John O’Shea and unnerved by the all-star United attacking line including Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney.
Who would be the best partner for him is certainly up for debate. All of O’Shea, Carlos Cuellar and Modibo Diakite have shown they are more than incapable of the task so far this season. The position is saturated by players prone to mistakes who just don’t seem to be good enough. Whether Poyet will be able to mould any of these into a successful partnership I am not convinced, but unfortunately it is essential for the survival of the club, we can’t continue conceding goals at the rate we are and expect to retain or Premiership status.
Roberge is one centre back I would be comfortable seeing each week – perhaps for the second we would be best served scouring the transfer market once more.