Central midfield the key to Sunderland's transfer window
When Sunderland boss Chris Coleman deliberates over his selection for the Middlesbrough and Cardiff City games, the make-up of his midfield will be his biggest dilemma.
The problem Sunderland have in that department neatly emphasises the imbalance of the squad.
They are not short of bodies, and they are certainly not saving much money on wages.
In fact, the central midfield probably accounts for the biggest portion of the bill in any single position. Yet Coleman can barely field a fit partnership at present.
Lee Cattermole is out for another couple of weeks, Jonny Williams could be as long as six weeks away from returning.
Didier Ndong is missing with an ankle problem, while Paddy McNair is still working his way back to full fitness after long-term injury problems.
Jack Rodwell has had a hamstring problem, having failed to string any significant run of games together since his big-money move in the summer of 2014.
Earlier this season, he played a number of games at centre-back for the Under-23s to try to revive his career.
Coleman’s comments so far have not raised much hope that the former Everton and Manchester City man will return to the engine room for a consistent period.
The ex-Wales boss is relying on the energy of George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch to tide him over. Both have performed admirably, but are not naturals in their midfield positions.
Darron Gibson, the closest thing Coleman had to a playmaker, is now injured, perhaps for a prolonged period.
So additions are needed, both to make up the numbers and also to add variety.
Coleman can’t rely on the options he currently has to perform regularly and, even when fit, they perhaps do not fit the mould of the ball players he needs to introduce his possession-based philosophy.
Yet adding more to the wage bill is an obvious problem given Sunderland’s significant loss of revenue following their relegation from the Premier League.
There will be no quick fixes, either.
Rodwell remains under contract until the end of next season, while Cattermole’s current deal runs to the summer until 2021.
In the short term, Coleman has limited options.
He can promote a youngster, most likely to be Elliot Embleton or Ethan Robson, and, with the FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough next up, that may be a tempting option.
He could also move Marc Wilson into a defensive midfield role.
The Ireland international has played the role in the Premier League on countless occasions and, while he clearly would not bring the same passing ability as Gibson, Wilson would have the experience and positional sense to execute it.
It is for this reason that Coleman and Sunderland will hope that interest in Ndong is concrete.
The 23-year-old is by far the most saleable asset of Sunderland’s options, and, while his departure would be a loss, he has rarely featured for a manager who has not seemed particularly enthusiastic about his talents.
Coleman may feel that Ndong’s high-energy approach can be carried out by Honeyman and Gooch.
What the manager needs is more composure and creativity to reduce the workload on Gibson, and only by moving some current players out will he be able to secure one.
It is only one position, but one that sums up the balancing act he will have to carry out over the next two to three windows.