With neighbours and bitter rivals Newcastle making waves during the recent January transfer-window, splashing out big money on Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend among others, Sunderland fans may have looked on with a slight sense of envy… and possibly worry.
With both sides embroiled in a relegation scrap, the edge that the stellar signings made by the Magpies can give them in the latter part of the season could be a significant one, with the Black Cats, both direct rivals in the fight to stay in the Premier League and bitter enemies.
They made their own additions though, albeit their business consisted of somewhat lesser-known names than those lured in by the side in black and white. Jan Kirchhoff, Dame N’Doye, Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri are not players many Black Cats fans would have come across regularly prior to them joining the club.
All four have featured to some degree since there arrival however, and have more or less performed well in their time on the pitch. But, it’s the fourth name on that list that interests the most, the young Tunisian, Wahbi Khazri.
Having just turned 25, the man bought in from French club Bordeaux is at the perfect age to impact on a side in search of a spark to get them out of the relegation spots. He could provide Sam Allardyce with that extra bit of quality in the final third that makes the difference between Premier League or Championship football next season.
Already the signs are good, the midfielder having a hand in both goals in his side’s comeback from two down against Liverpool recently. He won the free-kick that Adam Johnson scored from, and also played the ball into Jermain Defoe’s feet for the equaliser following some good work down the left.
Comfortable on the ball and with good technical ability, his attacking instincts could prove to be vital during the run-in, particularly for a side so bad at the back. In fact, unusually for an Allardyce team, the Black Cats’ game against Liverpool was the eleventh game in a row the Wearsiders have failed to keep a clean sheet.
With such defensive shortcoming’s, Khazri’s ability at the other end of the pitch will be crucial. His dribbling skills and quick feet in the final third should prove useful in both unlocking defences and winning free-kicks, as evidenced during the Liverpool game.
With Defoe once more showing top goalscoring form, his link-up play with the former England striker will also be crucial. The 33-year old’s ability to play on the shoulder and get in behind the opposition remains, so both seeing and executing the correct pass to feed the prolific striker will be what the Tunisia international will be asked to do.
If the pair can build on the relationship already displayed by the equaliser against Liverpool, the North East side will reap the rewards.
With Dutch midfielder Jeremain Lens now completely out of favour at the Stadium of Light, and winger Adam Johnson no longer around (for reason’s we don’t need to expand on here), Sunderland will need some creativity and guile up top. The Tunisian has the ability to take over the free-kick duties from Johnson, while he also has the ability to the floating No.10 top teams often possess.
Prior to joining Sunderland from Bordeaux, Khazri had notched five goals and seven assists in just 20 appearances for the French Ligue 1 side this season. If he can replicate that form, maybe hitting the back of the net with one of his trademark long-shots or slipping balls through for Defoe to score, Sunderland could have found themselves the man to lead them out of the mess they currently find themselves in.