Q: What do you do when you've got loads of central defenders, one left sided full back that struggles positionally, no wingers and a capable goalscoring striker that is crying out for support up front?
A: You chop and change your central defenders, expect your left full back to be able to stay switched on for ninety minutes, play two attackers out of position on the flanks and go one up front.
It would seem that what you see above has been the case for Sunderland throughout the opening stages of the season, and none of us are quite sure why. I mean, we're all resigned to the fact that we recruited fairly poorly this summer and that we're struggling with injuries to important players, but even with a full squad do we have the quality and depth to be able to play David Moyes' favoured 4-3-2-1 system?
I'd suggest not.
Even with the much-maligned Fabio Borini and Adnan Januzaj fit, you have to question whether playing either man on the flanks benefits them or the team, whilst beyond that we tend to opt for three holding midfielders sitting fairly deep and a defence that just cannot concentrate for a full game. Simply put, not once this season have we started with a team and system that suits every player on the pitch.
Thankfully, the injury to Jan Kirchhoff against West Bromwich Albion meant that David Moyes had to make a change that he might not have necessarily made that day - looking to his bench for an attacking option that could help us back in to the game, his options were limited. Though Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman are promising numbers tens, they aren't exactly game-changers. Patrick Van Aanholt is, behind Jermain Defoe, our most potent attacking threat and has been for well over a year now. Moyes had to get him on but without upsetting the balance negatively, and as such he was effectively forced into changing his system entirely to accommodate Van Aanholt on the pitch.
It wasn't just Van Aanholt who benefited, though. Jason Denayer looked instantly more comfortable when moving inside the defence alongside John O'Shea and Lamine Kone, whilst further afield it meant that Wahbi Khazri and Duncan Watmore had to focus less on providing width and more on creating support for the Jermain Defoe. You sensed immediately that the team as a whole felt better about the way they were playing than they had for the hour or so prior to our forced changes.
That HAS to become important to Moyes when deciding what to do at Stoke City this weekend.
There were calls on this site after the Everton game for Moyes to go with a five-man defence in the Spurs game as it made sense then, and though three league games have passed us by since it isn't too late for our manager to bite the bullet and change things up ahead of the Stoke game.
Going with a five-man back line isn't even negative, not like it once was - if anything, it makes us a more solid and mobile side that is better equipped at either end of the pitch. Plenty of other teams in the Premier League have used a similar system this season to great effect.
Though you don't have the width that a 4-3-2-1 can offer you, it doesn't necessarily matter in our case because our wingers are awful anyways and our best wide players are our full backs. It gets someone else alongside Defoe - and lord knows he's crying out for help up there - whilst it keeps three in midfield and provides you with better defensive cover. It appears to make perfect sense, to me anyways.
I'll be disappointed if David Moyes opts against going with what is blatantly obvious in an attempt to put across how he believes Sunderland should be playing, because having suffered watching us in seven league games this season I'm pretty resigned to the fact that our players are completely incapable of playing in a 4-3-2-1 system.