On-loan Spurs star DeAndre Yedlin reveals why his defensive game has improved so much at Sunderland
Thirty three minutes. That was how long Dick Advocaat had seen of DeAndre Yedlin in the flesh before agreeing to the Spurs defender's arrival on August deadline day.
Yedlin had featured as a second-half substitute during the USA’s friendly in Advocaat’s native Holland during the summer, yet he was nowhere near the former Sunderland head coach’s radar at that stage.
The American international was simply an available loan option for Sunderland in the closing stages of the summer window, when their desperate need for another full-back had reached code red proportions.
But as Advocaat brushed up on Yedlin, he learned that the ex-Seattle Sounders man’s reputation was strikingly reminiscent of fellow Sunderland full-back Patrick van Aanholt – lightning quick, excellent going forwards, yet suspect defensively.
Van Aanholt has addressed the latter deficiency in striking fashion under Sam Allardyce’s regime, but Yedlin has also made significant strides on that score (discounting the throw-ins...)
In the six games since the 22-year-old has been recalled to the side, Sunderland have shipped just six goals – a welcome improvement from a defence which was the leakiest in the Premier League for long portions of this season.
And after alternating between right wing and right-back in the early stages of his career, Yedlin feels he has matured into his defensive duties under Allardyce’s guidance.
“It’s something that I wanted to work on, especially coming into the Premier League,” said Yedlin.
“I felt that was the area of my game that needed the most improvement and the gaffer has really helped me with that, as have the players alongside me.
“He’s just made me more aware positionally.
“Positional awareness comes with experience so getting game time helps, but we also work a lot in training as a back line and also on defensive shape.
“Before, sometimes if the ball was played over my head I wouldn’t know where I was.
“Like against Arsenal (December’s 3-1 defeat) when (Joel) Campbell got in behind me, but now I feel a lot more comfortable.
“Before, sometimes I would be going forward when it really wasn’t the right time to go too.
“Now I’m picking my times better, and that’s helping me defensively.”
Yedlin faces the acid test of his defensive improvement in Sunday’s visit of League leaders Leicester City, with the Foxes boasting the leading two contenders for Player of the Season in Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.
Van Aanholt will predominantly deal with Mahrez on the opposite flank to Yedlin, yet it is Vardy who has proved a master this season at stretching defences down the channels between centre-halves and full-backs.
“As a full-back you have to be aware of where he is because he likes to get into spots where you are not used to being,” said Yedlin.
“That’s why we have to be on our sharpest game and we have to be focused for the whole game.”
If Sunderland can end Leicester’s run of four successive victories on Sunday, it would keep alive the title hopes of Yedlin’s parent club Spurs.
But there is little scope for Yedlin to worry about the prospects of anyone else amidst Sunderland’s plight, with Allardyce’s men four points adrift of safety.
The Black Cats’ situation could be even more perilous by kick-off on Sunday too, with fourth bottom Norwich travelling to sinking Crystal Palace 24 hours earlier.
“(Beating Leicester) would definitely help Spurs but the focus right now is obviously on us,” added Yedlin.
“We need these points, so we are going to go out and win the game as we try to do every time.
“I think we’ve been playing much better in recent weeks, but we still just need to find that last touch, or to not concede a late goal, to seal victory.
“Of course, Leicester are a great story.
“Talking to players here and they were saying if Leicester win the title it will probably be one of those stories they end up making a movie out of!
“But we can’t focus on them. We have to focus on ourselves right now because we have to get out of trouble.
“We have to get these three points any way we can.”