Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce urges Jeremain Lens – and others – to up fitness levels

Jeremain Lens.
Jeremain Lens.

Jeremain Lens is one of several Sunderland players whose below-par work-rate is costing them a place in the starting XI, writes Chris Young.

Dutch international Lens was Sunderland’s big-money summer capture after the Black Cats shelled out a fee which could eventually rise to £13million for a player who had twice previously worked under now departed head coach Dick Advocaat.

There is no doubt at this level of football the size of the work-rate needed.

But Lens has been an unused substitute for the last two games, with rookie Duncan Watmore preferred against Southampton a fortnight ago.

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce has far from shut the door on Lens and expects the 27-year-old to be handed fresh opportunities in his continued search for his strongest side.

However, after looking at the statistical analysis of Sunderland’s players, Allardyce says Lens must improve his work-rate to get back in the fold – a criticism which was also aired by Advocaat earlier in the season.

Allardyce said: “I think what Jeremain has to do overall, like they all have to do, is to lift his level up in terms of work-rate.

“There is no doubt at this level of football the size of the work-rate needed.

“With each position, I have the levels of an elite performer and an average performer for a Premier League player.

“It’s easy for me to monitor.

“It’s not just Jeremain, but some of our players have been told that they haven’t reached the average and I expect them to reach that average very quickly.

“In finding the right team, Jeremain has had the knock back.

“But he’ll have an opportunity somewhere down the line that he’s going to have to grab.

“I’m still not satisfied with the team and results, so somewhere he’ll get picked and he’ll have to be ready to take it.

“Hopefully then he stays in.”

Allardyce believes he is getting closer to knowing his strongest side, yet injuries, suspensions and of course results, have hampered his efforts to find the best combination.

“I’m leaving players out and putting others in to try to find a solution,” he added.

“I don’t want to do that really, but unfortunately there’s no option at this moment in time.

“I’m getting a bit closer to finding that strongest XI, but three weeks since I’ve been here have been internationals.

“When I first got here there were two suspended and three injuries.

“Then we got three injuries in the Newcastle game, and the Everton game was one I’m still trying to get my head around.”