Jack Rodwell needs to show more bite to cement his place in Sunderland’s central midfield, believes Dick Advocaat.
Rodwell has been one of Sunderland’s better performers so far this season, with the £10million man producing arguably his best display in a red and white shirt in last month’s draw against Swansea, and then netting a brace in the Capital One Cup win over Exeter.
He can play much better aggression-wise, second ball-wise and interaction during the game.
The 24-year-old was more subdued in Sunderland’s last outing against Aston Villa, yet he appears to be ahead of Seb Larsson and potentially Lee Cattermole in Advocaat’s thinking alongside French international Yann M’Vila.
But while Advocaat has been encouraged by some of the signs from Rodwell, the Sunderland boss still wants the England international to display more aggression in the engine room.
Advocaat told the Echo: “I think Rodwell can do even better, even though the Swansea game was the best game I have seen from him.
“He can play much better aggression-wise, second ball-wise and interaction during the game.
“In principle, he is a player that can use his right and left foot, but the aggression is part of it too.
“If you can’t do that in the top league, then you have no chance.”
Rodwell is likely to keep his place when Sunderland return to action against Spurs on Sunday, but the make-up of the Black Cats central midfield is Advocaat’s chief selection dilemma.
While M’Vila has been an instant success after his arrival on a season-long loan from Ruben Kazan, the other two spots in the middle of the park are still in the balance.
The capture of Ola Toivonen, in particular, has put Cattermole’s position under scrutiny, despite the Teessider’s huge influence on Sunderland’s intensity over recent seasons.
Cattermole has been out-of-sorts at the start of the season - conceding two penalties in the opening four Premier League games - and was replaced at the interval by Toivonen at Villa.
“You will not hear any bad words about Lee from me because last season he did a really great job for this club,” added Advocaat, who also has Seb Larsson and fit-again Jordi Gomez as midfield options.
“Maybe he’s not in the right shape, particularly when he doesn’t have a direct man (to mark). That’s why we changed it at Villa.
“But we’re going in the right direction, believe me.”