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TALKING TACTICS - Sunderland v Manchester United

Rory Fallow analyses the game against Manchester United, where Sunderland ran out deserved winners.

Line Up

Just the two changes for Sunderland, after their spirited comeback away to Liverpool last week. Predictably, DeAndre Yedlin started ahead of Billy Jones and, somewhat unpredictably, Dame N'Doye replaced Duncan Watmore. Many expected Yedlin to feature due to Jones' run of poor form, but Sam Allardyce had his mind made up for him after Jones was ruled out with a hip injury. It was thought that Fabio Borini would come into the side, after Duncan Watmore was forced off at Anfield with suspected ankle ligament damage, but Allardyce opted for N'Doye which would give Sunderland a different option going forward.

John O'Shea and Lamine Kone continued their partnership at centre back, with Vito Mannone behind them and Patrick van Aanholt at left back. Sam Allardyce continued with his new found midfield trio of Jan Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole and Yann M'Vila with Kirchhoff sitting the deepest. Sunderland would be looking to Wahbi Khazri, who started wide on the left, to provide their main attacking threat and to supply Jermain Defoe who, once again, started up front.

Just like the games against Manchester City and Liverpool, Sunderland lined up in a 4-1-4-1 with attacking freedom given to both full backs, due to the protection offered by their midfield three.



As expected, Louis van Gaal kept his Manchester United side in the 4-2-3-1 formation that we've became accustomed to seeing them in. Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick played just infront of a back four of: Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Daley Blind, Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian. Behind them would be David De Gea, arguably United's best player this season and he'd be needed against the in form Defoe and Khazri.

At the other end of the pitch, Manchester United's biggest attacking threat would come from Anthony Martial who would be looking to give DeAndre Yedlin a torrid afternoon. On the opposite flank was Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata played just behind Wayne Rooney. With three goals in his last two games against Sunderland, the improved Rooney would pose quite a threat to Sunderland's new centre half pairing.


There was a cautiously optimistic feeling surrounding Sunderland going into this game. If they could play like they did against Manchester City and keep up their desire from the Liverpool game, then they had to fancy their chances against the inconsistent Manchester United. The pace of Sunderland's full backs, Patrick van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin, would be crucial against the speed and trickery of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard. The three central midfielders would also be expected to help out both fullbacks and "double up" when the ball was worked into the final third, in a wide position. If you then add the presence of Juan Mata in the middle then you'd expect Sunderland's back line to be in for a busy afternoon.

As well as helping out their full backs, Cattermole and M'Vila would need to help Defoe, N'Doye and Khazri in their pressing of the United midfield. Sunderland have shown good off the ball work since the turn of the year and they'd need to keep that up so that Schneiderlin and Carrick would have as little time on the ball as possible and therefore less chance of picking out the runs of Martial and Lingard. This would, of course, lead to United's wingers picking up the ball infront of Sunderland's defence but Sam Allardyce would be confident of his side being able to defend the edge of their box.

Attacking wise, Sunderland would be looking to the sheer audacity of Wahbi Khazri to create the opportunities to unlock a tight United defence. Dame N'Doye would offer Sunderland the chance to hold the ball up higher up the pitch, drag defenders out to him and also give them a threat in the air if they wished to play the ball long. Both Khazri and N'Doye's main prerogative though, would be supplying and creating space for Sunderland's main goal threat, Jermain Defoe.


Sunderland will have been looking to contain Manchester United for the opening 20 minutes and try their best to exploit any opportunities that came their way. So you can imagine the bemused joy across Sam Allardyce's face when his side went ahead after just 3 minutes. Patrick van Aanholt's attempt to break down the left was halted as Matteo Darmian blocked the Dutchman's run. This gave Wahbi Khazri the opportunity to give Manchester United's defence an early test from a set piece, as he lined the ball up around 35 yards from goal and sent an in swinging ball to David De Gea's far post. Jermain Defoe allowed the ball the run through his legs and no one in the United defence could stop the ball creeping past De Gea, as it found the bottom corner. The crowd at the Stadium of Light had been excited by Khazri's deliveries from set pieces against Manchester City and now they had a goal to celebrate from one.

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Sunderland's clearances (46)

In the twenty minutes that followed Khazri's opener, Manchester United dominated possession having 68% of the ball but it was Sunderland who were asking all the questions. Even though Sunderland's overall pass success rate was a mere 44% in that time, they managed four shots on goal. Patrick van Aanholt excellently pressed Matteo Darmian into relinquishing possession, which lead to Lee Cattermole finding Jermain Defoe in the box whose initial effort was blocked by Chris Smalling. Defoe attempted to get the ball from out under his feet but Smalling, somewhat fortuitously, cleared the ball off Defoe for a United goal kick.

The only blow for Sunderland in the early stages was Jan Kirchhoff being forced off, with a hamstring injury, after only 15 minutes. Kichhoff was replaced by Jack Rodwell with Yann M'Vila moving into Kichhoff's deep lying role. Sunderland continued to press forward though as DeAndre Yedlin, who had coped with Anthony Martial quite well so far, found Jack Rodwell who quickly moved the ball wide to Khazri. After cutting inside, Khazri's shot at goal was blocked by Morgan Schneiderlin amidst appeals for a penalty as the ball struck Schneiderlins hand. Referee Andre Mariner assumedly gave Schneiderlin the benefit of the doubt though, due to his arms not being raised.

As the half went on, Manchester United managed to settle Sunderland down and started to find a bit of rhythm. Their possession dipped slightly but they were now doing more with it, having 5 shots in the last twenty minutes of the half compared to none at all in the first twenty. To Sunderland's credit though, the majority of these shots came from attempts outside the penalty area which showed how organised they were in defending the edge of their own box. United had been reduced to pot shots that were either comfortably saved by Vito Mannone or blocked by the Sunderland defenders. That was until just before half time when Juan Mata's low drive was excellently saved by Mannone, only for Anthony Martial to dink the follow up into the net from a tight angle. The score was level at half time but it meant that Sunderland still had a chance of taking all three points

Many would have expected Manchester United to come out and take a hold of the game in the second half but it was Sunderland who looked the most likely to go in front. Just like at the beginning of the first half, Sunderland saw less of the ball but did more with it. Lee Cattermole played a perfect through ball for Patrick van Aanholt, who squared the ball to Jermain Defoe only for Daley Blind to block his shot. It's also interesting to note that Manchester United made 5 tackles in the opening 25 minutes of the half, all from defensive minded players (Schneiderlin, Love and Blind), where as half of Sunderland's tackles were being made by the attackers Khazri and N'Doye. This alone shows how Sunderland were pressing Manchester United high up the pitch and when they conceded possession, it wasn't in an area that United could hurt them from.

The pressure didn't relent from Sunderland as they had seven shots in a fifteen minute period, between 60 and 70 minutes. Compare that to United's three and you can see which side was forcing the issue the most. The best chance for the home side came on the hour mark and from another lovely Lee Cattermole through ball. The midfielder slipped in Dame N'Doye but he saw his effort saved by the outstretched leg of David De Gea. The resulting corner ended up with Yann M'Vila trying a shot across goal before the ball scrambled out to Lamine Kone who had the audacity to attempt a bicycle kick which sailed over the bar. That wasn't Kone's last piece of bravado though, as he brought a brilliant save from De Gea when he almost bent the ball into the top corner at the Spaniards near post. United's best chance in this period came when Juan Mata saw his shot brilliantly blocked by Jack Rodwell after 67 minutes, if that had gone in though it would have been massively against the run of play.

Kone's time was still to come though and it would be from another Khazri set piece. After Fabio Borini (who had came on for Jermain Defoe) saw his cross put behind by Daley Blind for a corner, the expectation grew amongst the crowd. Khazri's out swinger found an unmarked Kone who powered the ball towards goal and it found it's way into the next via a mix up between Martial and De Gea. It may go down as a De Gea own goal but Kone deserved the credit after a fine performance. With only 8 minutes of normal time remaining, Sunderland were close to a huge three points.

The tension ramped up in the stadium as Memphis jinked into the box from the left hand side and shot across goal, producing a well parried save from Vito Mannone. Two minutes later and Memphis would be denied again, this time from John O'Shea as he did well to block the wingers shot. Sunderland themselves had a chance to put the game to bed when Patrick van Aanholt found himself with a sight of goal from 12 yards out but his shot went wide at the near post. Manchester United kept trying to push forward but with very little threat as Sunderland held on for the victory and claimed a much needed three points.


This was possibly the most entertaining Sunderland have been all season. They showed a huge desire to win this game and they, quite simply, wanted it more than Manchester United. They won more ariel duels than United and dispossessed them more often which shows that Sunderland's plan to press and harry the visitors was an effective one.

You can't win games on pure desire alone though. Sunderland showed extreme quality on the ball, with Wahbi Khazri being the obvious standout. His ability to take players on when no other Sunderland player could, his threat from dead balls and his willingness to track back all contributed hugely to Sunderland's success. It's still early in his Sunderland career but he already looks like an excellent acquisition.

21 shots on goal, shared amongst 8 players, is also a very encouraging stat for Sunderland. We can see here that chances are being created in a variety of ways and in different positions. If Sam Allardyce is looking to take some of the goal scoring burden off Jermain Defoe then he can see from this game alone that his side is capable of doing just that.

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Sunderland's shots on goal (21)

It wasn't just the win itself that Sunderland should be pleased with, it's the kind of win, with all players making big contributions. You know a side have performed well when everyone has differing opinions on who the man of the match should be and that's exactly what happened after this match. I've already mentioned Khazri but praise is also due to both Lamine Kone and John O'Shea who kept United's opportunities to a minimum, DeAndre Yedlin who matched Anthony Martial, Yann M'Vila who was his usual self just oozing class and Dame N'Doye who never stopped working and offered a great support going forward.

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Maybe Sunderland would like to keep their momentum going and having no game this weekend could be viewed as a negative but this two weeks allows Sam Allardyce to take his players away for some warm weather training and it gives a few players some time to get back to full fitness. Every player will be vital as Sunderland approach their final run of games but those games look a lot more inviting after such a good performance.

All stats are according to WhoScored

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