Victor Anichebe gained some rather unexpected, but nonetheless well-earned notoriety from his contribution to last week’s 2-1 win over Bournemouth - but, in truth, he’s only one half of a winning formula.
Hitherto our match on the south coast, Moyes was stubborn enough to stick with a formation that saw Jermain Defoe - all 5’7’’ of him - playing as a lone striker. Regardless of his physical presence, he still remains a threat that no other team in the league would be naive enough to underestimate, but it’s a threat that can be straightforwardly dealt with.
Take the West Ham game for example - Defoe didn’t get a sniff. If ever the ball threatened to fall at his feet, the Hammers back line would encompass him immediately. With our midfield being largely ineffective, it’s a maneuver teams can afford to make, as the veteran striker remains our only threat for large portions of games.
Moreover, when we’re on the back foot against a team pressing on our back-line, which is almost always the case, our preferred form of transport to Jermain is the long-ball to frantically get the ball away from our box. He’s not exactly known for out-jumping the average centre-back, is he?
Essentially, if teams can stop Defoe, they can more than likely stop Sunderland.
This is what makes the Defoe-Anichebe partnership so crucial, so valuable, and ultimately so astounding that it hasn’t happened sooner. It’s the classic little-and-large model, with the strengths of both strikers complementing the weaknesses of the other.
Defoe might be a good finisher, but he lacks the physicality and hold-up play once defenders are set on him. All Jermain needs to do is jostle into space and you can count on him converting, but this is something he seldom achieves alone - evidently.
Anichebe, however, is the polar opposite. We saw against Bournemouth how well he can bully defenders and force himself into space, while utilising his aerial presence. But he perhaps lacks Defoe’s precision.
If either were played up front by themselves for the duration of this season, both would struggle for goals, as both would only be able to realise half of their full potential.
We need to see more of Anichebe winning long-balls, muscling his way through defenses and picking out a Defoe who is no longer swarmed by three or four of the opposition’s back-line.
It’s especially astounding how the Anichebe-type frontman was something we only picked up after the transfer window, with the initial aim of Victor simply making up the numbers, and viewed as no more than a "sensible" signing. In reality, this should have been a priority, as the big imposing target-man was something that Sunderland was completely devoid of.
Bottom line, if our midfield isn’t pulling it’s weight and the defence remains in a state of chopping and changing, then we need to depend on our strikers to out-score the opposition. To do this, we need the traditional model: the fox-in-the-box and the target man, with another (Watmore or Borini) providing further width from the right hand side. It just makes sense.
Defoe and Anichebe need performances comparable to a contemporary Quinn and Phillips if we’re to stand any chance of staying up.
Little-and-large. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.