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Talking Tactics: West Ham United v Sunderland

A close game saw Sunderland's final visit to the Boleyn Ground end in defeat, Rory Fallow analyses the game which Sunderland were unlucky to come away from empty handed.

Line Ups

Sunderland:

For the first time since May 2014 Sunderland named an unchanged team, with Sam Allardyce making no changes to the side that were victorious over Manchester United two weeks ago.

DeAndre Yedlin held onto the right back position despite the return from injury of Billy Jones, with John O'Shea and Lamine Kone continuing their partnership in the centre of defence. Patrick van Aanholt occupied the left back role.

Sunderland would be looking to their attack minded full backs to get forward quickly, with Whabi Khazri and Dame N'Doye aiming to make runs into the middle to support lone striker Jermain Defoe.

After limping off in the early stages against Manchester United, Allardyce was pleased to have Jan Kirchhoff providing a bridge between defence and midfield as he started just in front of the back four, a role he's become accustomed to during his time on Wearside.

Ahead of Kirchoff would be Yann M'Villa and Lee Cattermole, the latter playing slightly more advanced in the hope of using his energy and intensity to press and harry the West Ham midfield.

Retaining the number one shirt was Vito Mannone and that completed Sunderland's line up, in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

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West Ham:

Familiarity wasn't just gracing Sunderland's starting line up as West Ham sprung no surprises on their team sheet.

Slaven Bilic named the same back five that played in the 2-2 draw away to Norwich City with Adrian in goal, James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna at centre half, Aaron Cresswell at left back and Sam Byram on the right. The Hammers lined up in their usual 4-3-3 formation with captain Mark Noble in between Manuel Lanzini and Cheikou Kouyate, who would provide additional attacking support to the already potent front three of Dimitri Payet, Emmanuel Emenike and Michail Antonio.

In facing a team full of attacking quality, Sunderland's defence wouldn't be in for an easy afternoon as Bilic's enthusiastic Hammer's looked to further cement their place in the top six.

Approach

Despite West Ham having a lot of joy playing a counter attacking style this season, this would be a game they would look to control. A home fixture against a side in the bottom three would certainly be a natch they had to win if they're to be taken seriously for a top six finish. Mark Noble would look to keep things ticking over in the middle, allowing the likes of Lanzini and Payet the opportunity to express themselves.

For Sunderland, they'd be content with West Ham taking the majority of the ball. Sam Allardyce witnessed how effectively his side secured a tight perimeter around their box against Manchester United and would look to do the same against the similar threat posed by West Ham. Lee Cattermole and Yann M'Vila would be given the task of pressing the likes of Noble and Kouyate into conceding possession with quick balls being played in the direction of Jermain Defoe and Wabhi Khazri, so as to exploit the lack of pace in the middle of West Ham's defence.

As has become customary for Sunderland this season, Patrick van Aanholt would be expected to provide additional attacking support from the left as would DeAndre Yedlin on the opposite flank. If both Khazri and N'Doye were to be alternating wings then both full backs would have to get forward as quick and as frequently as possible to allow both wide players, especially N'Doye, to dart into the box and provide additional support to Defoe.

The calmness, composure and wide range of passing from Jan Kirchhoff would be key to any of Sunderland's counter attacking play.

Execution

It was a bright start from Sunderland as they forced an early corner after only three minutes and were pressing West Ham's midfield rather well. Jan Kirchhoff pressed Cheikou Kouyate into giving the ball away to Lee Cattermole who played a good ball through to Jermain Defoe, only to see the linesman's flag raised. Not long after, Kirchhoff attempted two well thought out through balls towards Defoe, which were unlucky not to come off, but it was encouraging for Sam Allardyce to see his midfielders displaying their ability to make key passes.

Sunderland were showing the intensity required if they were to allow West Ham the majority of possession, making seven tackles in the first twenty minutes and dispossessing West Ham twice. With the tackles being made in a variety of areas by four different players (Khazri, Kirchhoff, Yedlin and M'Vila) it revealed that in the early stages, Sunderland were well drilled in their game plan of keeping West Ham's chances to a minimum. The only chance for West Ham in the first twenty came from a long range effort from Mark Noble who saw his shot tipped onto the bar by Vito Mannone.

Whilst the effort was well struck, it further showed that Sunderland were doing their jobs correctly if West Ham were only testing Mannone from well outside the penalty area.

As the possession started to even out, Sunderland kept up their energy as Wahbi Khazri almost seized upon Adrian's dalliance in possession. The West Ham keeper took a few touches too many in trying to gain control of the ball and Khazri almost pressed the ball into the net before Adrian cleared the danger.

It wouldn't be long until the Hammers saw their goal come under threat again though as Khazri saw his free kick bounce off the top of the cross bar. Jan Kirchhoff continued to maraud forward when required and was brought down the edge of the West Ham box, giving Sunderland a free kick right on the corner of the area. Khazri feigned to cross but sent a wicked, out-swinging, looping effort towards Adrian's goal, which saw the goalkeeper wrong footed as it went tantalisingly close to dropping under the crossbar.

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Sunderland made eleven crosses into the box and none met their target - poor.

Just as Sunderland were getting more of a foothold on the game and began to look comfortable after a decent first half an hour, West Ham took the lead. Patrick van Aanholt first failed to clear the ball out of play for a throw in before making a half-hearted attempt to tackle Michail Antonio who managed to send a low curling shot towards the far post. The ball went past Mannone as the goalkeeper's body language suggested he thought the ball was going wide, thus not making much of a dive to capture the ball. It was a soft goal for Sunderland to concede made all the more frustrating as it saw all their good work early in the game rendered useless.

As the first half wore on, West Ham became assured in seeing out the half. The only real chance after Antonio opened the scoring came from the goalscorer himself, as a clever turn and shot saw Mannone push the ball out for a corner. Whilst possession continued to be fairly even in the closing stages of the half, it was West Ham who were the more expressive with three shots and six successful dribbles in the last fifteen minutes. Sunderland may have been waiting for half time to reevaluate their attacking play but they kept up their intensity, winning more aerial battles and more tackles than West Ham as they looked to not have the game beyond them by the time the second half kicked off.

As the second half commenced, Sunderland dominated in the opening stages having 64% of the possession, four shots and a pleasing pass success percentage of 74%. Jermain Defoe showed keen eagerness to pick up the lose ball afforded to him after James Collins had misjudged the flight of the ball but he really should have done better with his effort, not even forcing a save out of Adrian as his shot went wide. A tidy ball from Lamine Kone allowed Wahbi Khazri to jink towards the edge of the box before slipping in Defoe who again put a decent chance wide before his blushes were spared by the assistant referee's offside flag.

This was exactly what Sam Allardyce needed to see from his players after the break as they pressed higher up the pitch and looked the more likely of the two sides to score. As Allardyce looked to keep up Sunderland's attacking intentions from the middle of midfield, he sacrificed Lee Cattermole for Jack Rodwell. Cattermole had struggled to have to desired effect in his role higher up the pitch which could end up costing him his place in the starting line up should Allardyce continue to ask Cattermole perform duties which he's simply not right for.

Rodwell made a good impact on his introduction, immediately bursting through the middle to force West Ham into conceding a corner. It was encouraging to see this hunger from Rodwell, a player who has been far too pedestrian this season. It wasn't long after his introduction that he came agonisingly close to making the game all square either, Jan Kirchhoff played an exquisite ball down the right for DeAndre Yedlin who found Rodwell twelve yards from goal but his shot was saved by the outstretched leg of Adrian.

Slaven Bilic hadn't seen his side create much in the second half with West Ham looking to consolidate their position and sit on their one goal lead. After coming off the bench for Emmanuel Emenike, Andy Carroll rattled the crossbar with a half volley after Sam Byram nodded the ball down in his direction. Had it gone in, it would have been curtains for Sunderland and they very nearly made West Ham rue their miss as Wahbi Khazri crossed the ball into the box before it was intercepted by Byram who was then forced to block Jack Rodwell's shot, as his interception fell to the feet of the Sunderland midfielder.

It was beginning to feel like it wasn't going to be Sunderland's day, even though they continued to dominate possession in the later stages of the second half. Their pass success rate had dwindled as the Black Cats were forced to player longer passes at a much quicker pace. Many expected to see Fabio Borini introduced into the proceedings but Allardyce stuck with the height of Dame N'Doye and the always threatening Jermain Defoe. N'Doye went close with a curling effort from the left of the area, forcing Adrian to parry the ball into the path of Wahbi Khazri. The Tunisian struggled to get the ball from under his feet before clipping a cross towards Jack Rodwell who couldn't get any power or direction on the header.

It was to be the last chance of the afternoon for either side, Sunderland being left empty handed and frustrated having lost a game they should have taken something from.

Conclusion

We're now at the stage in the season where we need points, not positive performances, so it's difficult to not feel disappointed with this game. However, after the four points taken from Liverpool and Manchester United it did relieve some of the pressure on the game at Upton Park.

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Statistics according to WhoScored.com

Sam Allardyce has spoken of how he has a points target on each individual game and he probably would have had a "1" written next to West Ham but he wont have had a combined total of "4" next to Manchester United and Liverpool. It's fair to say that this defeat isn't the end of the world and the performance suggested that the corner Sunderland seemed to have turned in February wasn't just a false dawn. Like I said though, we need results so hopefully the game against Crystal Palace will a win in convincing fashion.

Bar some poor individual defending for the goal, Sunderland played well defensively. John O'Shea and Lamine Kone continued to looked like a decent partnership and dealt with everything that came their way rather comfortably. Both players were good in the air, winning a couple of aerial duels each and they made five tackles between them. Hopefully the return of Younes Kaboul, who was on the bench against West Ham, keeps O'Shea and Kone sharp and on their toes as the ex-Spurs man will be looking to force his way back into the team.

The undoubted highlight for Sunderland was of course Jan Kirchhoff, the best player in a green shirt. Kichhoff was great to watch, looking always unfazed by what's going on around him and his eye for a pass. With five tackles and four headers won, the most of any defensive player on the pitch, it shows he's not just there to keep Sunderland's passing ticking over he's crucial to breaking up opposition play. In Sunderland's battle to beat the drop, Kirchhoff could be just as important as the likes of Khazri and Defoe.