A Needless Change In System
I'm not sure why David Moyes thought it was a good idea to change the formation to more of a conventional 4-4-2, rather than the 4-3-3 Sunderland had been enjoying some success with in the previous encouraging performances against Leicester and Hull.
Jermain Defoe wasn't being isolated as part of the previously-successful 4-3-3, so he didn’t need Victor Anichebe right next to him. It wasn’t like Defoe really felt any benefit from the alterations either, as his shooting opportunities were all fashioned by his own determination. So it’s clear the change wasn’t for Defoe and, regardless, it didn’t assist him at all.
Victor Anichebe had been hugely effective in a wide left position, especially when he was linking up with Patrick van Aanholt. So why move those two players further away from each other?
Spending most of his time on the right, Anichebe obviously wasn’t able to use his hold up play to create space for Van Aanholt. Despite spending most of the game in opposition half, the Dutchman didn’t make as many touches in the Swansea half as he did his own. It showed that for all the good positions he may have taken up, it was in vain without Anichebe there to open up the space for him.
So even though Anichebe was further advanced, it only blunted Sunderland’s attack. It doesn’t matter if you have two up top because if you’re team isn’t playing to it’s strengths, they won’t create chances. Two shots on target, against a team with a terrible defensive record, is criminal. Had Sunderland tried to implement the game plan they’d used in previous weeks, they’d have certainly caused the home side more problems and they can only blame themselves for giving the Swansea back line an easy days work.
Our Central Midfield Isn’t Strong Enough To Only Play With Two
A narrow four man midfield did raise some eyebrows as our players first took their positions. Steven Pienaar was great last weekend in the first half through the middle, and we all know that Sebastian Larsson is better in the same position these days, rather than out wide. I appreciate that both were playing narrow and hardly getting chalk on their boots, but it was still a strange decision to change both players positions when they did so well playing centrally last week.
Perhaps the loss of Duncan Watmore’s energy from the right flank was the explanation - play with 'defensive wingers' in the hope that will compensate for his loss. That would be a flawed logic, though, as Watmore likes to press higher up the pitch, something Pienaar and Larsson just weren't able to do.
It meant that the central two, Jason Denayer and Didier Ndong, had to be more conservative when out of possession. Since there were only two men in the middle, at least one of which would need to offer protection to the back four, meaning that neither player were able to push Sunderland further up the field.
Just like playing two up front, this midfield just stifled Sunderland - we were unable to press because of having to hold positions, and it gave Swansea ample time on the ball.
One of Ndong’s greatest assets is when he's pressing the ball and making tackles, but because he wasn't able to press, he couldn't affect the game. The new signing has been making a high amount of tackles per game lately but shackling him within a two-man midfield was detrimental to his performance - both he and Jason Denayer only made one tackle each all afternoon.
Due to picking up five bookings so far this season Ndong will miss the visit of Chelsea on Wednesday, meaning that David Moyes will be forced into making changes in the middle. Against a much stronger side, the manager surely has no other option than to go back to a three man midfield which will not only just give the defence more protection but will help to build attacks.
Defensive Organisation Was Back To Being Poor
With Sunderland struggling to create chances at one end of the pitch, their defence suffered too. Jordan Pickford, once again, made some impressive saves but with the men in front of him under performing, Swansea always looked likely to score.
Fernando Llorente was allowed to dominate in the air, winning seven aerial duels. Only three came in the Sunderland penalty area but out of Lamine Kone and Papy Djilobodji's combined success of four aerials won, none of them were in their own teams box. It gave Llorente free reign and he profited for Swansea's third goal, when poor positioning from Papy allowed the veteran striker to put his header away relatively unchallenged.
The Lads didn't defend particularly deep, understandable given Llorente isn't exactly the most mobile of forwards, but it meant Gylfi Sigurdsson could exploit the space that had been vacated. Without the extra Sunderland midfielder guarding the defence, Sigurdsson was able to roam across the pitch without being tightly tracked, but chose the Sunderland left as his main focal point. Since Patrick van Aanholt was pushing higher up in an attempt to get things going in the final third, the Icelandic talisman was quick to notice the space opening up. Usually, Sunderland would have a midfielder dropping in to cover for Van Aanholt but with only Denayer and Ndong in the middle, both had to focus on their duties in their own area of the field.
It may have been in an attacking sense where Sunderland mainly did themselves a disservice but the change in system also hindered them defensively.
The Best Thing Sunderland Can Do Is Take This As A Lesson
The victory over Leicester seemed to be the blue print for how Sunderland should look to play for the majority of their games. You could say that this defeat showed them exactly what they shouldn’t do. So, let’s move on and try to take this experience as a learning curve.
It shouldn’t be forgotten just how much David Moyes has got right over the past few weeks and, in turn, how well the team have played.
The previous month still gives him some cash in the bank and he still deserves the trust of the supporters. Hopefully Moyes now fully understands, if he didn’t already, what his teams limitations are.
The midfield isn’t good enough to only have two players operating through the middle and the defence need that extra man to protect them. Our full backs are dangerous going forward, but they too need that extra central player to cover for them. They also need the wingers/inside forwards to work hard with them, so getting Anichebe back onto the left will go some way to aid our quest out of the relegation zone.
The sooner that Fabio Borini regains fitness the better, too. He can pick up from where Duncan Watmore left off - providing energy and work rate whilst also adding more quality down our right hand side.
Our poor start to the season means that we really cannot afford many slip-ups so it’s frustrating that we had to pick this game, a big relegation six pointer, to fall flat on our faces.
Hopefully the players and staff remind themselves of everything they’ve done so well lately and we can look to get back to winning ways and improving our performances.