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Talking Tactics With Rory Fallow - SAFC v Stoke City

Sunderland fell back into the bottom three but claimed a fortuitous point after a disappointing display at The Britannia Stadium. Rory Fallow analyses the game.

Line Up

No injuries to the Sunderland side meant that Sam Allardyce named an unchanged team for the fourth consecutive game. Looking to take advantage of Stoke's recent defensive frailties were Jermain Defoe, Fabio Borini and Wahbi Khazri who, despite looking a threat against Arsenal, managed to draw a blank.

Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone would continue their run of games together at centre half and would be aiming for a fourth clean sheet in five games. They'd be flanked by Patrick van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin on the left and right, whilst Vito Mannone kept goal.

With criticisms of Jan Kirchhoff, Yann M'Vila and Lee Cattermole being too defensive minded subsiding, they remained the midfield three. All three would be looking to provide openings for the forwards but also giving extra protection to the back four. Kirchhoff, as has become customary, played slightly deeper than Cattermole and M'Vila as The Black Cats lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation.

Opposition

A leaky Stoke defence, which had let in four goals in each of their last three games, had three changes to it for the visit of Sunderland. Jakob Haugaard replaced Shay Given in goal, Geoff Cameron came in for Philipp Wollscheid and Erik Pieters was preferred over Marc Muniesa. Completing The Potters defence was captain Ryan Shawcross and ex-Sunderland man Phil Bardsley.

In a team of quite a few changes, Peter Crouch would line up against some familiar faces - his former Spurs teammates Jermain Defoe and Younes Kaboul. Behind Crouch was Charlie Adam in the number 10 role, Marko Arnautovic on the left and Xherdan Shaqiri on the right. Stoke played a 4-2-3-1 formation with Glenn Whelan and Giannelli Imbula in the deeper positions.

Approach

With Stoke conceding fourteen goals in their last four games, Sunderland would be hoping to be the latest team to give their defence a difficult afternoon. Sam Allardyce would be looking to Wahbi Khazri to pick up from where he left off, after an impressive afternoon against Arsenal last Sunday. Khazri's trickery and constant energy kept the Gunners guessing and a similar performance versus a lesser defence would surely give Sunderland some joy. Add in Jermain Defoe's ability to get in behind and his poaching presence, then Allardyce would have plenty of reason to be confident that his side would grab some goals.

A constant approach from Sunderland has been to concede possession and they'd need Jan Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole and Yann M'Vila to press as well as they did against Arsenal if that plan was to bear fruit. Charlie Adam would certainly work hard when Stoke were not in possession but Sunderland's midfield trio would make Giannelli Imbula and Glenn Whelan their primary focus to press into mistakes. Aside from their off the ball work, Cattermole and Kirchhoff played a couple of exquisite long balls for Jermain Defoe to get on the end of against Arsenal and similar efforts against Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron would certainly cause problems for The Potters.

Facing the height of Peter Crouch is always an issue for any side but given Sunderland's solid defence displays recently, Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone would be in a confident mood as the lined up against the former England international. If Crouch was to win the battle in the air then Patrick van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin would need to be on their toes to track the incoming runs of Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri, whilst Kirchhoff would take responsibility for Adam. Either way, Kaboul and Kone would need to win the majority of aerial duels against Crouch if they were to come away from the Britannia Stadium with a clean sheet.

Execution

In a fairly uneventful opening twenty minutes, Sunderland had the majority of shots despite having less possession. Patrick van Aanholt had an effort fly wide and had one saved whilst Jermain Defoe suffered similar fortunes, displaying Sunderland's counter attacking intent. Stoke were asking the majority of their questions through dangerous looking crosses as they attempted to utilise Peter Crouch's aerial threat. It took until the 18th minute for Stoke to produce a save from Vito Mannone though, when Crouch headed towards the bottom corner and Marko Arnautovic tried to steer the ball beyond the goalkeeper. Lamine Kone did enough to prevent Arnautovic getting the vital touch though and Mannone parried the ball wide.

The resulting corner from Crouch's header saw Sunderland produce their best move of the game so far, a pleasing counter attack led by Jermain Defoe. Picking up Wahbi Khazri's clearance in his sides last third, Defoe carried the ball up the right wing before laying to ball to Fabio Borini in the centre. As the bodies rushed forward, Patrick van Aanholt received the ball and got to the edge of the area where he elected to send a tame shot towards Jakob Haugaard, despite Wahbi Khazri being in space on his left. Nevertheless, it was a quick, dangerous counter from the visitors and Sam Allardyce would be encouraging more of it.

As the first half wore on, Stoke continued to dominate possession (with 60%) and they were now starting to get overall control of the game as they had more shots and made more tackles than Sunderland, between twenty and thirty five minutes. Continuing to operate in the wide areas, Marko Arnautovic fizzed a dangerous low ball across the six yard box and Peter Crouch placed a header just past the far post after a long ball from Phil Bardsley. Sunderland were coping with the pressure fairly well but they would have only had themselves to blame had Arnautovic not spurned a glorious opportunity. A throw in on the right hand side saw The Black Cats far too focussed on Peter Crouch, so when his flick on found Giannelli Imbula, the midfielder had plenty of space to run in to before playing in Arnautovic. With only DeAndre Yedlin up against him, Arnautovic should have at least forced a save out of Mannone but his shot was high and wide, much to the relief of Sunderland.

After surviving that scare, Sunderland managed to settle the game down for the final ten minutes of the first half. The Lads saw their highest amount of possession in this period, with it being split almost 50-50 and they forced a couple of shots. A dangerous corner from Wahbi Khazri ended up falling to Lamine Kone around twelve yards from goal and the defender spun quickly to get his shot away, only for it to whistle wide. It may have been an uneventful half, and a one where Stoke had the better chances, but Sunderland had the most shots on goal and had used their pace to good effect on the break. If they could keep that up and keep Peter Crouch under control, a win still wasn't beyond their grasp.

Early the second half, it would be the inability to deal with Crouch in the air that would cost Sunderland. Charlie Adam swung the ball in from the left and Crouch, who did appear to be climbing on Younes Kaboul, nodded the ball down for Marko Arnautovic who lashed the ball past Vito Mannone, after getting the better of Lamine Kone. Regardless of whether Crouch had fouled his former Spurs teammate or not, Kone wasn't close enough to Arnautovic to prevent him from bringing the ball down and a despairing lunge after that wasn't enough to make the Austrian miss the target. A poor goal to concede and Sunderland now had it all to do.

In the twenty minutes after Stoke took the lead, Sunderland tried to seize control of the game as they sought an equaliser. Despite the possession being, yet again, almost split evenly they only managed one shot on goal as they struggled to break Stoke down. The shot came from Jermain Defoe cutting inside and sending an effort narrowly over the bar from a tight angle, after Stoke failed to properly deal with a Sunderland corner. The Black Cats lack of shots could be attributed to their poor passing ability as aimless long balls struggled to find a green shirt. A pass success percentage of 58% in this time, with Lee Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff being on a dreadful 44% and 38% respectively, means it was no surprise that Stoke were comfortably keeping Sunderland at bay.

With half an hour left, Sam Allardyce made a double change in the forward positions as Dame N'Doye and Duncan Watmore took the places of Fabio Borini and Wahbi Khazri. Both of Sunderland's starting wide forwards had struggled to affect the game, which could be attributed to the poor performances from the middle of midfield as Cattermole, Kirchhoff and M'Vila struggled to play them into the game. Watmore would give the front line some pace and tenacity, whilst N'Doye would hopefully give them more of an outlet in the air.

Sunderland grew into the game more as the second half went on, as Stoke started playing deeper looking to hold onto their lead and hopefully exploit the gaps left by Sunderland on the break. In the final twenty minutes of the game, the visitors made use of their dominance in possession by passing the ball more effectively and completing 77% of their passes, a huge improvement to what was being witnessed earlier in the half. It lead to five shots on goal in the closing stages, aided by Lee Cattermole and Yann M'Vila, who were finally making use of the wider players - as M'Vila found DeAndre Yedlin deep in the Stoke half. The USMNT international's cross was too deep but well won back by Jan Kirchhoff, who centred the ball to Jermain Defoe but the striker couldn't keep his shot down as he struggled to gain full control of the ball, due to the pressure of the Stoke defenders.

With only ten minutes to go, Sam Allardyce had to roll the dice as he replaced Jan Kirchhoff with Sebastian Larsson and Sunderland now started playing a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation. Dame N'Doye was now playing much closer to Jermain Defoe, Duncan Watmore and Larsson played as narrow wingers for the final ten minutes, as Patrick van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin pushed higher up. With the clock ticking, Younes Kaboul was even being deployed as a make shift striker, as the match was now all being played in the Stoke City half with Sunderland having over 60% possession in the final ten minutes.

The persistence from Sunderland would pay off in stoppage time. When Erik Peiters headed clearance only went as far as Yann M'Vila, the Sunderland midfielder immediately sent the ball along the ground to Jermain Defoe. Looking to get rid of the ball for good, Peiters rashly went in on Defoe but could only bring him down to award Sunderland a penalty in the 93rd minute. With Sunderland's usual penalty taker, Fabio Borini, off the pitch - the responsibility to fell to Defoe who sent Jakob Haugaard the wrong way to salvage a vital point for The Black Cats. They may have turned in their worst performance in some weeks but they'd managed to rescue a point that could prove vital, as the game finished 1-1.

Conclusion

Given the recent form and performances from both sides, Sunderland were rightly confident as they travelled to the Britannia Stadium. They knew that if they could play to the level they did against Norwich City or Arsenal, then three points wasn't an unrealistic proposition. So why did it go so wrong?

Firstly, it was the poorest display from Sunderland's defence in some time. You can definitely cut Kaboul and Kone some slack as they have been excellent in recent weeks, even in the defeat against Leicester City they were still the standout performers. Peter Crouch constantly got the better of both centre half's in the air and his 13 aerial duels that he won shows how difficult he made life for The Black Cats defence. Both Kaboul and Kone still have plenty of "cash in the bank" at the moment though and there's no reason to think that they won't be able to bounce back from a disappointing afternoon, given how well they've played lately. They'll certainly need to as Sunderland can't afford any more poor performances.

The midfield three of Jan Kirchhoff, Lee Cattermole and Yann M'Vila also didn't play at the level they're capable of. In the second half, M'Vila was starting to influence the game from an attacking perspective more often and Kirchhoff was also making a good contribution going forward. Despite some good pressing in the first half though, Cattermole was barely noticeable in the game and it seems that if just one of Sunderland's central men go missing for long periods then it has a knock on effect to the other two. Due to the lack of control and sloppy passing from the midfield, it meant that Fabio Borini and Wahbi Khazri weren't able to get into the game and it forced Sam Allardyce to totally alter his forward line. The way Yann M'Vila ended the game was something to draw positives from though and hopefully he picks up from where he left off against Chelsea and you'd expect a character like Lee Cattermole to be able to quickly move on from a bad day at the office.

Once again though, Jermain Defoe has dragged Sunderland to a result. After winning the supporters player of the season in midweek, he showed us all why it was deserved - first by turning cleverly and quickly to win the penalty and then having the guts to step up and stick it away. Even though it was a poor performance from Sunderland, the poorest in a long time, they've still managed to come away with something. Imagine just how low the dressing room would be had they failed to do that. That last minute equaliser keeps the momentum up and means they've only lost one game in eight. If they can draw a line under the negatives and play to the level they have been lately, a result against Chelsea could make that equaliser look even more important.

All stats are according to WhoScored.