The knock on DeAndre Yedlin has never been his physical gifts. Tottenham Hotspur's young American right back, currently on loan this season at Sunderland, is blessed with an incredible motor that he routinely displayed as a player with Seattle Sounders and in stints with the USA men's national team.
But one of the reasons he went on loan in the Premier League instead of fighting for a spot on Tottenham's first team is that he's been labeled as suspect defensively. According to Yedlin, that's changing, and it's down to the coaching and match time he's been given under Dick Advocaat and Sam Allardyce.
"It’s something that I wanted to work on, especially coming into the Premier League. 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.
"[Allardyce] 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."
Sunderland are in the midst of a terrible season that could very well see them relegated, along with arch-rivals Newcastle, to the Championship. Sometimes, the crucible of a relegation scrap can be the best thing to happen for a young defensive player, especially one on loan from a much better club.
The ultimate test of Yedlin's defensive improvement may come this weekend when Sunderland host league leaders Leicester City. Stealing points from the league leaders would not only help Sunderland but could also be a huge boon for Yedlin's home club as Spurs continue to push for the Premier League title.
"(Beating Leicester) would definitely help Spurs but the focus right now is obviously on us. We need these points, so we are going to go out and win the game as we try to do every time."
Tottenham signed Yedlin more or less as a flyer, someone who the club hoped, with time, could grow and eventually challenge Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier for a spot in Spurs' first team. Regardless of Sunderland's fate at the end of the season, the experience of defending for your club's Premier League status will hopefully help mold Yedlin into a better overall player. Yedlin seems to think that process is happening. It'll need to if he has any chance of being a major part of Mauricio Pochettino's future plans.