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Talking Tactics: Chelsea (H) Preview

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A relatively bright start to the season at Liverpool has quickly soured to such an extent that Steve Bruce no doubt welcomed the distraction of an early season international break.


Chief amongst Sunderland's problems since things kicked off almost a month has been their inability to find the back of the net. The Black Cats have managed just a single goal in the space of 360 minutes of competitive football; star striker Asamoah Gyan has yet to get off the mark.


In light of this, Bruce moved on deadline day to secure the loan signing of Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner. Very tall but (as you would expect with anyone from Arsenal) more than capable with the ball at his feet, Bendtner could add a new dimension to a side that has looked worryingly shy in front of goal thus far.

So, does Bendtner start?


If Steve Bruce's previous form of looking to slowly introduce new signings into the side, rather than throwing them in at the deep end, we should perhaps not expect Bendtner to line up from the start against Chelsea on Saturday.


The problem with this is that Sunderland currently look extremely short on firepower. At Swansea last week, Bruce's men mustered only two efforts on target all game (three if we count John O'Shea's header rebounding off the bar). Whilst this was in part down to good defensive work from the home side, it still remains that the red and whites are undergoing a very dry spell in front of goal.


Playing Bendtner would hopefully change this. A common problem this year seems to be the isolation of Asamoah Gyan, and Gyan's relative inability to hold the ball up long enough to get others involved further up the field.


A look at Gyan's passing grid from the Swansea game (due to technical problems I can't give you a visual representation of this, sorry, you'll just have to take my word for it) shows that an utterly tiny percentage of his activity came in the final third. Furthermore, the few times he did attempt a pass in that final third, he was unsuccessful.


It took until the arrival of Connor Whickham for Sunderland to look more threatening, but even then they were unable to find the goal.


Thus, playing Bendtner would greatly enhance the side's chances of scoring, but the problem lies in who he would replace. Dropping Gyan would be pointless, as that still leaves the issue of the Black Cats having only one out and out striker on the pitch.


What seems clear is that Bruce needs to change his current system. At the moment, the relatively inflexible 4-4-1-1 formation is proving easy to defend against; the two wide men in midfield are simply not giving the side enough width or creativity.


Chelsea and AVB


If Sunderland are to take the game to Chelsea (which they should, as sitting back will inevitably end in conceding), then a quick look at a view from Chelsea fans (HERE) of their recent victory over Norwich City suggests the Wearsiders may see some joy.


Andre Villas-Boas has yet to suffer defeat in his new post as Blues boss, but that hasn't stopped their fans worrying slightly about their own start to the season.


Indeed, just as with Sunderland, those at Stamford Bridge have been concerned with what they see as a relative inability to create goalscoring chances.


Now, at first, it must be said that a look at the stats from that Norwich game suggests Chelsea supporters are being ridiculous in making such claims; the Blues scored three goals in that game, and had no fewer than 18 efforts on goal.


But, context is needed. Whilst opposing goalkeeper John Ruddy was kept fairly busy, as stated on the aforementioned Chelsea blog, the Blues midfield now lacks what is defined as a "quick ball-mover", meaning that Norwich were often given plenty of time to react and get into position to defend effectively. Florent Malouda, though hugely effective at times, can be particularly laborious on the ball, whilst of Ramires, Mikel and Lampard, only Ramires is likely to drive forward with any deal of pace – and that is from a very deep position, and thus easier to react to defend against.


As that same article states, then, it is new boy Juan Mata who could be key. Though only entering the fray with a shade over twenty minutes remaining, the Spaniard was heavily involved, and misplaced only 3 of his 27 passes; not bad for a Premier League debutante.


Mata, of course, sealed that game with a goal deep in injury time, so looks likely to be a potent threat to the Black Cats this coming Saturday.


An interesting point mentioned in that piece is the seeming unwillingness of Chelsea to pass the ball to their £50m striker Fernando Torres. The World Cup winner naturally forages deep for the ball anyway, but it is striking that a man of his ability is currently receiving such limited opportunities in front of goal. However, he still remains a clear threat, and whoever is entrusted with marking him (Wes Brown, perhaps?) must ensure they aren't dragged out of position, leaving a lot of space for the powerful Didier Drogba to exploit (assuming, of course, that Villas-Boas opts to play these two together again).


With Chelsea having similar problems to ourselves except on a grander stage, it would seem Saturday will be decided by whomever decides to start taking their chances.

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