Moyes Makes Changes Before The Game
I've been critical of Moyes during his short time in charge but he deserves credit for recalling key individuals to the starting eleven and making an astute tactical switch during the game. First, the starting line up.
Many were calling for John O'Shea to be reintroduced to the back four that was lacking leadership and guidance. The decision to include O'Shea paid off - his influence may have not solved all of Sunderland's defensive problems but the defence was certainly more organised. O'Shea made an excellent seven interceptions throughout the game as well, proving that while his legs might be going his reading of the game is as sharp as ever.
At the other end of the pitch, there was a first league start of the season for Wahbi Khazri. The Tunisian midfielder didn't set the world alight but it was certainly a performance to build upon as he caused the West Brom defence problems all afternoon. He would have got an assist as well had Jermain Defoe made the most of his pass after a brilliant ball from Patrick van Aanholt (more on him later). A main worry from David Moyes, and one of the reasons Khazri hasn't started, is that he gives away possession too much. This was a performance to ease some of those fears though, as he only gave away possession once and had a pass completion percentage of 78%, not bad for someone in his position.
So there's two changes that did pay off but the inclusion of Jason Denayer at left back wasn't so positive. Although Denayer did well in the air, winning four aerial duels, he didn't cause West Brom enough problems going forward and often halted Sunderland's attacks. It's harsh to criticise Denayer too much, he's young and playing out of position, but that's now two ineffective performances from him at full back - hopefully that experiment is now over with.
Moyes Makes Changes During The Game
For the first time this season, we've seen David Moyes react to what is going on in a game and change it to our advantage. With Jan Kirchhoff being stretchered off after another poor afternoon, it would have been easy for Moyes to go for like for like and keep things as they were. But it was clear that West Brom were comfortable with the way Sunderland were playing and Moyes had to take a chance, so it was great to see Patrick van Aanholt introduced and see the team switch to a 3-5-2.
It allowed Duncan Watmore and/or Wahbi Khazri to get closer to Jermain Defoe, in more central areas, providing him with some needed support, and it meant that Jason Denayer could tuck back into a more comfortable centre half role. With Denayer now in his more familiar position, it gave Van Aanholt the opportunity to display his dangerous attacking play and it was through that, that Sunderland got their equaliser. A good, strong aerial challenge started off the move and the Dutch wing back forced his way into the box after laying the ball to Watmore. A huge amount of credit should go to Watmore too, who dribbled excellently before his clever pass found Van Aanholt to finish the move off.
If Moyes hadn't been brave and opted to change the system, Sunderland probably wouldn't have taken anything from the game. I'm glad he's acknowledged that changes needed to be made before the game and he showed some nice, in game management. It's hardly earth shattering stuff but it's something to hold on to and build on, which is much more than you can say for last week.
The Midfield Continues To Underwhelm
As I touched on before, it was another underwhelming showing from Jan Kirchhoff in the Sunderland midfield. Kirchhoff yet again struggled to be the man to dictate the teams play, not winning enough tackles and not being effective enough with his passing. Another change to the starting line up saw Paddy McNair start in the league for the first time since the visit of Middlesbrough and despite some flashes in the early stages, he too struggled to make an impact. It was similar to the performances we've witnessed from Jack Rodwell - McNair was tidy enough with his passing but never really put his stamp on the game. You only have to look at the way both McNair and Kirchhoff meekly challenged Claudio Yacob in the build up to West Brom's goal to see how easily they were brushed aside when it came to their defensive duties.
The only time the midfield combined as a unit was in the opening three minutes, when Jermain Defore spurned a glorious opportunity. Duncan Watmore dropped into a deep central position and received the ball from McNair, before passing wide to Didier Ndong and continuing his run. Good running with the ball from Ndong allowed him to give possession back to Watmore, whose run wasn't tracked by the West Brom defence, and he slotted a lovely pass through to Defoe. It was a great early move and I hoped we'd see more contributions like that from the midfield throughout the game but it never materialised.
Credit to Ndong though who was the best performer in the middle for Sunderland, even if it wasn't spectacular. Five interceptions showed his effectiveness at halting the West Brom attack and he made more passes than any Sunderland player, 90% of which were successful. Ndong is yet to set the world alight on Wearside but his energy, commitment and technique are certainly major positives in an otherwise disappointing midfield.
A Calmer Defence But Still Not A Good Enough One
At the start I mentioned John O'Shea's importance to installing some organisation back to the defence but Lamine Kone is still failing to impress. There's not anything that a defender can do if their partner is performing so poorly and it makes you wonder just how much Papy Djilobodji has suffered from playing alongside the out of form Kone. The Sunderland midfield may have had their part to play in Sunderland's downfall for the West Brom goal but Kone was equally appalling. For a player who is usually very good positionally, he wasn't close enough to Nacar Chadli who was always going to beat Kone for pace when he got the ball at his feet. If Kone was to give him that much space, then he had to be dropping deeper so that when Chadli got the ball into the box, he could force him wide and away from Jordan Pickford's goal. Instead, he was able to continue running into a shooting position and put Sunderland a goal down.
The defence did look a bit more robust when it was reinforced with three central defenders and given how much stronger Sunderland looked going forward in that system, it may be one that David Moyes should thinking about starting with.
Patrick & Duncan Prove A Point
As usual, I'm going to end on a positive and that is the impacts made by Patrick van Aanholt and Duncan Watmore. As we all know, both combined brilliantly for the equaliser and they can be pleased with their contribution made in this match.
For last week's game against Crystal Palace, Watmore was omitted from the starting eleven, only coming on in the first half due to an injury to Steven Pienaar. Although he played the majority of the game, being dropped will have given the young forward food for thought that if he's to be starting every week, he needs to put in the performances that merit it. It certainly seemed to enthuse Watmore and the more central position later on the game definitely aided his play. We know Watmore isn't a natural winger, he's much more dangerous when operating through the middle and if Moyes continues with the shape that ended the game against The Baggies, it could be Watmore who benefits more than most.
A poor show against Crystal Palace was enough for Moyes to drop Van Aanholt, so it was good to see him looking fired up off the bench and trying to prove to the manager why he should still be starting. Sam Allardyce did a similar thing with the left back last season and it gave him the kick up the backside he needed, as he finished the campaign very strongly. It looks like PVA is the type who responds well to challenge made by the gaffer and likes to work hard to prove them wrong, hopefully this will be the catalyst to him continuing last season's form.
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- Match Preview: Baggies Win Is Needed To Buy Moyes Time