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Talking Tactics: Everton (H) - Makeshift Cats Impress

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Sebastian Larsson scored a precise free-kick as Sunderland drew 1-1 with Everton in a match full of talking points at the Stadium of Light.

Nigel Roddis

Line Up

Gus Poyet made three changes to the side that beat Crystal Palace 3-1 last Monday.

There was yet another defensive reshuffle for the Black Cats. Patrick Van Aanholt is the latest name to be added to the injury list, so Wes Brown was drafted back into the starting XI to partner John O’Shea in the heart of defence.

In midfield Lee Cattermole was suspended and replaced by Liam Bridcutt, while Adam Johnson returned to the side in place of Will Buckley.

Sunderland lined up in their usual 4-1-4-1 formation.

Opposition

After failing to find the net against Swansea in a 0-0 draw last weekend, Everton boss Roberto Martinez reacted by recalling his big-money striker to the starting line-up.

Romelu Lukaku returned to lead the line replacing Steven Naismith, leaving Samuel Eto’o to play a supporting role up top.

Elsewhere, Sylvain Distin replaced the injured Antolin Alcarez in defence.

Everton lined up in a 4-2-3-1- formation.

Approach

Sunderland recorded a much needed win last time out against Crystal Palace, and the amount of pressure that will have been lifted off of both manager and players as a result should not be left unconsidered.

Although Everton failed to score in their last Premier League outing, the Merseyside club are without a doubt still a dangerous attacking outfit – and there would be no room for defensive naivety at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.

Roberto Martinez’s side can be best characterised by their attacking threat in wide areas. No side in the Premier League poses a threat as heavy as Everton’s from wide positions, and the Spanish manager has arguably the best overlapping full-backs in the division.

For Sunderland to gain a positive result, it’s vital that Poyet had prepared his side for the tireless energy present on both sides of the Everton attack.

Execution

Sunderland started the better of the two sides. Everton were retreated in the opening exchanges, and the Black Cats looked a real threat on attacking set pieces.

It became clear early on that Adam Johnson’s inclusion in the side was perhaps motivated by his Premier League experience. The Winger had obviously been tasked with staying close to Leighton Baines when Everton were in possession, and was expected to track back extensively to relieve the pressure on Santiago Vergini - who is a notable weakness in the right-back position.

Over the ninety minutes Sunderland did a reasonable job neutralising Everton’s threat down the left. On the occasions the Toffees did manage to isolate Vergini the Argentinian looked fragile, but those occasions were few and far between - mostly because Everton seemed to be more determined to exploit Sunderland's left-hand side.

Anthony Reveilerre had another solid game, but he was offered little protection from Connor Wickham who put in another desperately poor performance in a Sunderland shirt. Seamus Coleman was granted too much freedom in the final third, and it was his influence that eventually resulted in an Everton penalty and equalising goal late in the second half.

Poyet’s side appeared to be showing a lot more attacking awareness than they have done in previous weeks. Jordi Gomez’s inclusion was again providing an additional threat going forward, the Spaniard was finding pockets of space around the penalty area and was almost rewarded with a goal just before half time. Although the Black Cats seemed improved in the final third, they are certainly still lacking in impetus from the wide areas, and were often inconsistent with their final ball.

The main positive for me -and the subject I’m going to focus on most in this week’s piece- was the presence of Liam Bridcutt, or perhaps, the absence of Lee Cattermole.

The Black Cats maintained their shape better than they have in any other game this season. They were controlled and organised centrally, and I believe this to be because Lee Cattermole was not at the base of midfield.

I’ve spoken openly about my reservations regarding Lee Cattermole in the past. To me his irrational nature and lack of positional discipline render him hard to play alongside, and I think to some extent my point was proven on Sunday.

Liam Bridcutt came into the side and turned in an outstanding performance. His passing and decision making was excellent, but most importantly, he provided an anchor for the side that Lee Cattermole simply does not.

Liam Bridcutt Heat Map Vs. Everton

Lee Cattermole Heat Map Vs. Arsenal

Looking at the heatmaps above, you can see how Cattermole's desire to constantly break lines can pull apart the shape of the Sunderland side deviating protection for the back-four- and it can be equally as destructive going forward. Players often talk about developing a mental map of their team's shape so as to know where they can play a ball without looking when under pressure, but you simply cannot predict where Lee Cattermole will be.

As a holding midfielder at the base of what is essentially a five-man midfield, you have to hold your position. Against Everton Liam Bridcutt did this really well, and he was a constant option for Sunderland to retain possession when a move was in danger of breaking down.

Yes it was only one game and the 25-year-old still has a lot to prove, but he really was just one misplaced pass away from the perfect performance.

In terms of Sunderland's goal, Sebastian Larsson deserves a great deal of credit for a well-taken free-kick. However, it wouldn't be right if Will Buckley's contribution wasn't recognised also. It's become apparent with Poyet that he likes the option of an impact substitution at his disposal, and for me, that's exactly how I see Buckley's career panning out at the Stadium of Light. In my eyes he has a great deal of hard work ahead of him before he will be considered a real threat in the Premier League, but the directness that brought him so much success in the Championship earned the Black Cats the free-kick opportunity on Sunday, and it was an injection of energy at the right time. A good substitution from Poyet.

Sunderland were unlucky not to grab all three points late on after Bridcutt stood a good ball up for Wes Brown's header to be cleared off the line.

1-1 probably a fair result on the day. The entire game was awash with controversies, it's not really my place to discuss them here, but for the record I still have absolutely no idea whether or not Tim Howard is allowed to do that.

Conclusion

Four points from two games and 14th in the table - not a bad way to head into the international break.

A very respectable performance from what is still a makeshift side. I still feel Sunderland are down there with the worst in terms of looking threatening in attacking areas, but the balance of the team looked ok on Sunday, and defensively sound.

Slowly but surely Poyet is improving the team, and the Black Cats will return on November 22nd in good form and possibly rejuvenated with the return of Ricky Alvarez and Sebastian Coates.

Sebastian Larsson, Costel Pantilimon and Liam Bridcutt all had solid games, and I really do expect the latter to keep his place in the side.