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Talking Tactics: Burnley (H) - Poyet Pleases Fans With Attacking Football

Two first half goals from Connor Wickham and Jermain Defoe secured a 2-0 win over Burnley at the Stadium of Light lifting the Black Cats up to 14th in the Premier League table.

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Line up

Gus Poyet made five changes to the team which drew 0-0 at home to Fulham in the FA Cup. Costel Pantilimon returned in goal replacing Vito Mannone, while Jordi Gomez, Adam Johnson and Connor Wickham also returned to first team duty.

Anthony Reveillere was deemed fit enough to start after a spell on the side-lines, and the Frenchman was drafted straight into the starting XI slotting in at right-back.

Sunderland lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation.


Sean Dyche named an unchanged side for the ninth Premier League game in a row. Star man Danny Ings started the game up front for The Clarets squashing speculation that the 22-year-old would leave the Lancashire club in January transfer window.

Burnley lined up in a 4-4-2 formation.


Gus Poyet seems to have acknowledged sections of the Sunderland support calling for a more positive attacking approach to games and had earmarked Saturday’s fixture as the perfect opportunity to rekindle his relationship with the fans.

With the Urugayuan still searching for the right balance within his team, the much criticised 5-3-2 system was again ditched this time in favour of a more offensive 4-4-2 diamond formation - a setup perhaps more suited to taking the game to a side of Burnley’s stature.


An integral three points for Sunderland and a much more convincing performance which will no doubt go a long way to ensuring Poyet has the backing of the majority of the Black Cats support for the time being.

After experimenting again with a 5-3-2 system in the previous two games Poyet was right to discard it in favour of the 4-4-2 diamond we saw on Saturday, but I think the aesthetics of this system still raised a few surprises.

Most would have expected Adam Johnson to operate at the tip of the midfield diamond after featuring in a similar role on occasions this season, however it was Jordi Gomez who was given this job with Johnson instead playing deeper alongside Sebastian Larsson in centre-midfield.

It was noticeable that while this was perhaps the most offensively ambitious formation we have ever seen from Poyet during his tenure as Sunderland manager, Connor Wickham was still being asked to do a lot of work defensively, and although without the ball Sunderland weren’t folding into the familiar 4-1-4-1, Wickham was expected to come deep quite a lot in order to help out.

What was encouraging was the amount of high pressure Sunderland were exerting on Burnley without the ball. I personally can’t remember a time when the Black Cats have played as high up the field  as they did on Saturday, and the level of urgency displayed to regain possession made for a difficult afternoon for Dyche’s men and allowed Sunderland to maintain a reasonably high tempo.

For me, the winning of Saturday's game can be attributed to two things. Burnley's failure to recognise the attacking danger of the full-backs in a Gus Poyet system, and the amount of bodies Sunderland were able to commit in the attacking third.


It's become increasingly noticeable this season that within any of Gus Poyet's systems the full-backs play a prominent role in attacking phases with their involvement key to Sunderland's penetration. So far this campaign the Black Cats have been hit by injuries within this department, and I have often pointed out that this was a contributing factor to the side's goal-scoring problems. On Saturday both Patrick Van Aanholt and Anthony Reveilerre put in superb performances, and Burnley were their own worst enemy for allowing the pair to run riot on each flank. The overlapping runs of the two full-backs meant Sunderland were able to get in behind Burnley on numerous occasions, with each of the pair providing an assist to cap off a solid afternoon's work.

Patrick Van Aanholt attacking influence

Anthony Reveillere attacking infulence

Attacking third

The major plus point of the 4-4-2 diamond system we saw on Saturday and the reason why so many Sunderland fans have been calling for such an approach for a while is down to the numerical advantage the formation allows in the final third. With the Black Cats keen to exert a high amount of pressure, a large proportion of the football was played in Burnley's defensive third, and Sunderland were able to commit bodies in dangerous positions.

Sunderland were for once ruthless with their finishing, and for me scored three legitimate goals only for Connor Wickham's early effort to be ruled out.

The main reason the Black Cats were able to cause the threat they did on Saturday was down to the new man - Jermain Defoe. I mentioned upon his arrival that he would not only be a goal-scorer but also a leader in the final third, and that's exactly what we saw against Burnley.

In the 75 minutes Defoe was on the field the 32-year-old didn't stop moving. He was always on his toes looking to either sniff out a goal-scoring position or aid in a buildup, and his willingness to work hard for the team was encouraging. A perfect example of Defoe's influence came in the buildup to Connor Wickham's opening goal. Defoe comes deep to play a huge role in creating the chance, although both of the following passes from Larsson and Reveilerre are also top quality. A great performance from Defoe and he's off the mark with his first goal. Very excited about his future at the club.


By no means the perfect performance but a good solid win at an important time. Sunderland will need to show that they can create and score the same kind of chances against tougher opposition, but for now it's definitely a result to build on.

It will be intriguing to see whether or not Poyet persists with this 4-4-2 diamond system away at Swansea next weekend, but if you wanted my prediction I would bet that he won't - although we may see a variation of it.

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