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Talking Tactics: Southampton (A)

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Sunderland plunged to their heaviest defeat in Premier League history losing 8-0 to a rampant Southampton at St Mary's.

Steve Bardens

Line up

Gus Poyet was forced to make one change to the team that recorded a 3-1 victory over Stoke City a fortnight ago. An injury to Billy Jones paved the way for Wes Brown to make his return to the starting XI re-joining John O’Shea at the heart of the Sunderland defence, with Santiago Vergini moving over to fill in in at right-back.

The Black Cats midfield remained unchanged, and Steven Fletcher retained his place leading the line after netting a brace in his last Premier League outing.

Sunderland lined up in Poyet’s trademark 4-1-4-1 formation.

Opposition

Southampton endured a turbulent close season prior to the 2014-15 campaign. Their all-star side was brutally dismantled by some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs in the summer, and the manager that masterminded the club’s highest league finish in over a decade – Mauricio Pochettino – moved onto pastures new taking the top job at Tottenham Hotspur.

With such change many had the Saints nailed on for a struggle this season, but Ronald Koeman has worked his magic quickly at St Marys, and the south coast side were sitting comfortably in third place heading into Saturday’s game - just six points behind league-leaders Chelsea.

Koeman fielded his usual 4-5-1 formation, characterised by two advanced wingers in Dusan Tadic and Shane Long who can almost act as inside forwards in attacking phases.

Graziano Pelle again spearheaded the attack for the Saints. The Italian is in the form of his life since moving to the Premier League, and had registered four goals in six games before the visit of Sunderland. The 29-year-old was rewarded for his form last week with his first international call up, and Pelle was amongst the goals again netting the winner in a 1-0 win over Malta.

SAFC v SFC

Approach

Sunderland recorded their first win of the season last time out against Stoke, but any chance of carrying momentum into Saturday’s game was denied due to the frustration of a week-long international break.

Prior to the trip to Southampton, Gus Poyet will almost certainly have demanded more of the same from his players. The Uruguayan’s side were unbeaten in their previous four league games, and arrived at St Mary’s in decent shape – though it has to be said that this particular fixture is arguably the toughest the Black Cats have had to prepare for so far this season.

The Saints under Ronald Koeman are already establishing themselves as an accomplished attacking side, so for any chance of a positive result Sunderland would need to be organised and efficient in defensive areas, and make good use of what possession they were allowed.

Execution

8-0. The heaviest Premier League defeat in the club’s history and a catastrophically bad showing from the entire team. The result on Saturday cannot in any way shape or form be attributed to the tactics deployed by Poyet, meaning the blame must solely lie on the performances and attitudes of the players. It was an utter collapse, and to micro-analyse each and every individual goal or mistake would be largely pointless – so I’ll discuss one or two aspects of the game, and close by rebuking the players.

Sunderland actually started the game well. Up until the opening goal of the day the Black Cats had controlled the early possession and managed to get into a number of advanced positions; although they failed to ever really pose a threat on the Southampton goal. From an attacking perspective, Sunderland were careless in the opening exchanges. There were a number of set piece opportunities in good areas which were completely wasted – and this is something we’re not used to seeing under Poyet. That aside, it appeared as though Sunderland were indeed going to offer the kind of showing typical of a team in decent form, but any chance of that was scuppered as the Saints went ahead in the 12th minute – and to say Sunderland never really recovered is to put it mildly.

Sunderland: Passes in attacking third prior to opening goal.

sun opening 10

Southampton: Passes in attacking third prior to opening goal.

saints opening 10

Santiago Vergini is a player that I like, and I think he’s shown signs this season of really settling into top flight English football. However, that own-goal, however freak it may be, is completely unacceptable. This is a professional footballer returning from international duty with Argentina! Vergini was under almost no pressure, yet acted with such an unbelievable amount of idiotic irrationality that it culminated with the 26-year-old putting the ball through his own net in chaotic fashion – terrible. That set the tone for the remainder of the Argentinian’s afternoon. Vergini isn’t comfortable at right-back, and the following two Southampton goals initiated in precisely that area.

Sunderland had a very decent shout for a penalty turned down at 2-0. Fletcher was up-ended by Fraser Forster in a one-on-one situation that was also the Black Cats only notable chance of the game, but referee Andre Marriner failed to see enough in it to award Sunderland the spot kick. Poyet made it clear after the game that this was a turning point in the match, but for me given the end result any discussion of this is hugely academic.

On 67 minutes Liam Bridcutt turned in the second own-goal of the day to make it 4-0 and truly bring the game to an end as a contest. Sunderland had already begun their disintegration, but the events leading to this goal in particular were simply ludicrous. For some reason Lee Cattermole had taken it upon himself to act as Sunderland’s furthest forward closing down Forster during a phase of Southampton possession, and this led to the shape of the side being completely pulled apart as the Saints eased up the pitch to create yet another clean-cut goal scoring opportunity.

The rest was history as heads dropped, shoulders were shrugged and Southampton excelled at punishing the Black Cats for what was a shameful and gutless display.

Conclusion

A result so bad that it must purely be looked at as a learning curve for Poyet in terms of the characters he has in his squad. Sunderland AFC were quick to make it known on their Twitter account on Saturday evening that the players had gone over to the away support to applaud the travelling fans, however I have it on good account that Fletcher, Johnson and Bridcutt had begun to dart down the tunnel as soon as the whistle sounded. I’ve also been informed that it was Jack Rodwell that ordered the trio back to the pitch to show their appreciation to the Sunderland support along with their teammates - which if true is possibly the only positive I can draw from Saturday’s game. It's great to see Vergini come out and take responsibility for his actions, and I'm sure he'll go from strength to strength with this game behind him. Again, it's great to see Vito Mannone campaigning for the supporters who made the trip to be refunded.

I mentioned in my last article a fortnight ago that Sunderland should really have been punished by Stoke on numerous occasions, and only weren’t due to the fact the Potters lacked class in certain attacking areas. Southampton didn’t, and they were absolutely rampant going forward, unearthing several inadequacies in a defence that up until Saturday had appeared reasonably solid.

You would expect changes now for the visit of Arsenal next weekend, but the fact is Poyet at this moment in time doesn’t have too many options at his disposal.