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ROKER RAMBLE: Sunderland Must Shape Up To Help Defenders

This week's editorial explores Sunderland's defensive woes and looks at whether it's a problem that could be addressed on the training pitch or in a transfer window...

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If there is one thing all Sunderland fans can agree upon right now and let's face it, there probably is only one thing, it's that the defence have been absolutely atrocious so far this season.

In fact we can and probably should expand upon that to say, defensively in general Sunderland have been atrocious this season.

The frailties at the back have been apparent in every game so far this campaign, with even League Two Exeter City seemingly scoring at will at the Stadium of Light.

Players have been heavily criticised - absolutely butchered in some cases - and rightly so. Watching Patrick van Aanholt against Norwich City, I'm comfortably certain that replacing him with an actual training cone would have given the team more defensive shape. At least, as a friend commented, the opposition would have had an obstacle in their path, which wasn't where the Dutchman was very often at all.

It was probably Van Aanholt's recent form in particular that led to DeAndre Yedlin's arrival from Tottenham on transfer deadline day, but it wasn't really an ideal solution on the face of it. He's a natural right back who, by all accounts, is quick but vulnerable defensively. He would, in theory at least, prompt the same problems currently posed and potentially one or two more on top.

But, then again, there is another possibility.

Modern football doctrine seems to be that the solutions to all a team's ills lie in the transfer market. Judgements on individuals are made and are, more often than not, absolute. Once you've had a weakness exposed or hit a tough run of form, you're branded en masse as not good enough and in urgent need of being replaced by someone hopefully better.

We shouldn't, however, be writing these players off too readily. The defence and goalkeeper against Swansea City were the same as the defence and goalkeeper that secured a clean sheet at Arsenal in May to secure survival. They were, for the most part, pretty solid throughout the season.

Fair enough, they were vulnerable to the odd battering, but by and large it was a lack of goals that dropped Sunderland in trouble.

While it's tempting to vent frustration and blast individuals, the defensive troubles Sunderland are currently facing appear to be mostly tactical to me.

That is something that Dick Advocaat himself has hinted at of late when trying to explain Lee Cattermole's struggling form: "Maybe he's not in the right (team) shape particularly when he doesn't have a direct man to mark, and that's why we changed it at Villa."

It's probably no surprise that Cattermole's best game came against Swansea, when their 4-2-3-1 shape gave him a direct opponent to nullify in Gylfi Sigurdsson. This hints at wider problems affecting the whole Sunderland side.

There appears to be a little struggle going on in terms of organisation this season, resulting in central midfielders not protecting centre-backs and wide players not covering full-backs. Everyone is looking pretty abysmal, defensively, as a result.

I am not sure the situation has been helped either by the consistent failure of the strikers to get a hold of the ball and keep it. That tends to be the cue for teams to transition from their defensive shape to attacking shape and back again, so if the cue is muddled, the movement is unlikely to be sharp and precise.

The physical presence of Ola Toivonen and sheer force of will of Fabio Borini may help us moving forward, and it hopefully will, but the point is that Sunderland's defensive problems can be traced to larger and far more realistic problems than individuals suddenly becoming bad players overnight. Common effects experienced at once tend to point towards a common cause, and it's that which Sunderland must address.

Can Sunderland improve the individual quality in their back four? Absolutely. No one here is saying otherwise. In fact, there is huge room for improvement. But in the here and now, transfer window or no transfer window, the solution to Sunderland's defensive woes lie on the training pitch. They always have done.

Until the tactical shape in front of them is well-drilled and conducive to quality defending, buying a new back four would just be handing the same old problems to a new bunch of poor sods and making them look rubbish too.

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