Sunderland have kicked off their season in style with back-to-back wins in the 2021/22 campaign, beating both Wigan and Port Vale.
They now travel away to face an MK Dons side who recently lost their manager Russell Martin to Swansea and have conceded eight goals in their first two matches – five to Bournemouth in a 5-0 Carabao Cup loss and three to Bolton in a draw in their first league outing.
Despite Sunderland’s strong start to the season, Lee Johnson has a major issue within his side. Young central midfielder Dan Neil has been deployed as a left-back and struggled against Wigan last weekend whilst playing out of position.
Neil received a tame WhoScored rating of 6.40 as he failed to win a single tackle and only made one clearance in the 90 minutes. He also completed 62% of his passes – the third-lowest in the team – and did not create any chances going forward from the back.
This suggests that the experiment of playing him at full-back has not been successful for Johnson, which means that a natural defender should take his place in the team against MK Dons. Prior to this week, Sunderland did not have a natural full-back option to slot in, but they have since announced the signing of Dennis Cirkin on a permanent deal from Premier League side Tottenham.
Johnson hailed the 19-year-old as a top talent upon his arrival at the club. He told Sunderland’s official website: “To get a player of Dennis’ quality at 19 speaks wonders in terms of what we’re trying to do because he is a top talent and he’s very highly regarded within the game.
“We have been really happy with the signings we have made so far and we will bank this one, but we will continue our work quietly and efficiently to try and get a couple more over the line.”
This shows that Johnson rates the defender highly and that is why he should be thrown straight in at the deep end against MK Dons. Whilst there is not much evidence to prove that he will be a quality option immediately, as he has not made his debut in senior football as of yet, it is worth the gamble as Neil has shown that he is not up to the task of playing out of position.
Therefore, Johnson may not have any other choice but to risk it and hand Cirkin his debut on Saturday. Hopefully, the exciting young full-back will be able to repay the faith shown in him by the club and demonstrate why he is so highly-rated, as it would give the former Bristol City coach a specialist left-back option instead of having to put square pegs in round holes.