Sunderland welcomed an out of form Tottenham Hotspur side to the Stadium of Light last Saturday, with the two playing out a dreary 0-0 draw on Wearside. The Black Cats, in contrast to their attacking display a week previously at Manchester City, seemed happy for a draw throughout, and with Spurs unable to offer much in reply, it made for a fairly boring game.
Martin O'Neill opted for a 4-4-1-1 formation. Nicklas Bendtner led the line with Stephane Sessegnon operating behind him, Seb Larsson and James McClean occupied the wings while Lee Cattermole and Craig Gardner marshalled the midfield. Phil Bardsley shrugged off a knock to continue at right-back, while Jack Colback again played on the hand side of defence. Matt Kilgallon and Michael Turner shielded Simon Mignolet.
The visitors also opted for one man up front, with Harry Redknapp's side employing a flexible 4-2-3-1. Emmanuel Adebayor was backed up by a three-pronged attacking midfield combination of Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric. Behind them, Sandro and Scott Parker operated as holding midfielders. Brad Friedel's goal was guarded by a back four of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Kyle Walker, William Gallas and Younes Kaboul.
A Drab Affair
Individual stalemates all over the pitch negated the attacking prowess on show in this contest.
First, Gareth Bale, media darling and often a thorn in the side of opposition defences, was kept largely quiet by Phil Bardsley. Though contributing four dribbles, the Welsh winger also lost the ball on four occasions for his side. Bardsley, meanwhile, contributed two challenges and an interception, but much of his good work came in simply standing firm against Bale and limiting the space for him to run into.
Bardsley was also effective - in the second half - of getting his opponent turned and facing towards his own goal. On a couple of occasions the Sunderland full-back was able to get in advanced attacking positions and, as the average position graphic shows, he played much higher up the field in general in order to negate Bale's impact on the game. Unfortunately though, Bardsley himself was ineffective when he found the ball at his feet in the opposition half, either fluffing or overhitting crosses on different occasions.
On the opposite wing, James McClean found himself (yet again) the subject of "doubling up" tactics. Kyle Walker, whose pace made it difficult for the young Irishman to take him on with any great success, was joined by Sandro whenever McClean found the ball at his feet.
Together they contributed twelve successful tackles and seven interceptions and for the most part forced McClean into passing the ball backwards to his left-back, Jack Colback. When Sandro departed for Aaron Lennon just after the hour, McClean was forced into a more defensive role to combat the pacey winger. Though, this also opened up more space when on the ball for the Sunderland man, but Walker handled him well.
In the middle, Sunderland were short on attacking quality. Lee Cattermole was excellent defensively - though his distribution when the team attempted to counter-attack was poor. Craig Gardner, too, was an effective defensive presence.
This was perhaps required, because Tottenham played three attacking midfielders, but it left the home side with very little threat through the middle. Gardner was slow on the ball and struggled to get his head up, and with Stephane Sessegnon misfiring ahead of him, the Black Cats were left relying entirely on their wingmen to try and create something.
At the back for Sunderland, Jack Colback was excellent and the side's man of the match. Growing in confidence at full-back, the youngster first blocked off van der Vaart, and then Lennon. His 94% pass completion rate was important too: in a game where Sunderland saw little of the ball (just 29% possession across ninety minutes), Colback's good distribution was integral in settling the home side and ensuring they didn't see wave after wave of Spurs attacks.
As it were, Spurs never really threatened much in this game, despite seeing a heavy share of possession. Harry Redknapp's side looked flat and struggled to play with the vigour and surprise factor they opened the season with. Emmanuel Adebayor cut a lonely figure up front, with the three behind him seeing moves break down well before they reached the opposition penalty box.
For Sunderland it was a good defensive performance but they offered little going forward. With Spurs playing in a manner that was akin to Swansea's performance a day previously against Newcastle, the home side were able to simply sit back and watch their visitors pass the ball around with no real end product.
The Black Cats dominated the corner count but ultimately never really tested opposition goalkeeper Brad Friedel. Still, despite Spurs' recent poor form, this was a good result against a top side.