Karl - Attack, Attack, Attack Attack Attack!
Some people have suggested that Saturday’s game against Stoke is an early season six pointer, and with their poor start to the campaign only slightly better than ours, the visit to the Bet365 Stadium represents a great opportunity for David Moyes to pick up his first league win as Sunderland manager.
But how can we leave the Potteries with all three points? We can either sit deep, look to keep things tight and hit them on the counter attack. Or we can look to take control of the game and attack them. Unfortunately, we aren’t particularly good at either, but I think that the latter represents the best option for us.
While the return of John O’Shea brought a tad more solidity and leadership to a desperate defence, I’m still far from convinced that we have the ability and concentration to absorb pressure for ninety minutes. Averaging just 41.8% possession per game (the third lowest total in the league) suggests that Moyes seems happy to sit deep and look to hit on the counter attack, but with 18.4 shots conceded per game (the second highest total in the league), it’s fair to say that these tactics aren’t working. We are conceding far too many chances, evidenced by Jordan Pickford’s total of 27 saves made in just five games, and we can’t rely on him to bail us out time after time.
And that’s why I think that we should attempt to play on the front foot against Stoke. Defensively, Stoke are just as bad as Sunderland. Only West Ham have conceded more goals than Hughes’ side in the Premier League, and their inability to keep the ball in midfield and win it back makes them vulnerable at the back. Stoke may have earned a solid point at Old Trafford in their last outing, but they owed a great deal to Manchester United’s inability to finish chances, coupled with the heroics of stand-in ‘keeper Lee Grant.
We saw what can happen when a player gambles and attacks a team in the draw against West Brom. Patrick van Aanholt showed initiative and desire to get on the end of a chance that he helped to create from his own half. In van Aanholt, Wahbi Khazri, Duncan Watmore and Jermain Defoe, we have players who can cause the Stoke defence problems. Whether the manager chooses to play in a way that gives them the chance to do so is another matter, but we won’t have many better situations in which we can earn a first win of the season.
Stoke are there for the taking, and while Hughes will be thinking the exact same thing about Sunderland, the omen is on us to go there and show that we want to win the game, and for me, taking the game to them is the best way to achieve that.
Gav - Defend, Defend, Defend Defend Defend!
I concede that Karl is correct in his statement regarding our defensive ability - to put it bluntly, our defending so far this season has been pure shit. Even still though, I saw enough from Sunderland in the latter stages of the West Brom game to suggest that we have enough about us at the back - providing John O'Shea plays of course.
Karl is correct - statistics show that we are shocking at keeping possession, and the fact we haven't kept a clean sheet in the league this season backs up the fact that our defending leaves little to be desired.
And frequent readers of these pages will know that I'm a keen advocator of Sunderland continuing to use the five-man defensive line that we employed against West Brom once Jan Kirchhoff left the field. We instantly looked more solid at the back, more comfortable in midfield and better going forward. It just makes sense that we stick with it.
Despite their defensive frailties, Stoke have capable forwards in Wilfried Bony, Marko Arnautovic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan, and that is something that we have to focus heavily on. Whilst they've struggled to get going so far this season, attempting to sit higher up the pitch and dictate play will only lead to us conceding by the boatload, because with their pace and power in attack they'd most certainly take advantage of the gaps we leave in behind whenever we are careless enough to venture up the pitch.
Our ability to move quickly on the counter in the five-man system suits defensive away-day football perfectly - when the opportunity arises, the likes of Van Aanholt and Watmore can attack at pace, something I would think will shake up Stoke's leaky defense immeasurably.
Lets not forget that this is an away game, and the onus will be on Stoke to be on the front foot in front of their home crowd. If we can contain and frustrate them, the Stoke supporters will be on their case - something that I feel would be a clear and concise advantage to us.
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