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From bad, to terrible, to even worse... Talking Tactics - Stoke (H)

In this latest rant about how bad Sunderland were, we're mainly dissecting the goals, since they were the cherry on the cake that was this weeks embarrassment. There's still time for some eye-rolling at the attack, goalkeeping based despair and the haunting familiarity of our early season displays.

The goals were all pretty horrendous so a lot of this week's Talking Tactics is going to be looking at them and just how bad they were.

For the first - Jason Denayer cheaply gives away possession in the middle and with both him and Rodwell pushed high up the pitch, it leaves a huge gap between the defence and midfield. So when Marko Arnautovic gets the ball and starts his charge towards goal, he only has to get the better of Donald Love before he's allowed his two shots.

I haven't forgotten about Mannone's part in this sham either and it's hard to not single him out for every one of Stoke's goals. He was beaten at his near post with ease for the first, in fact Arnautovic makes a fool of him twice. Mannone gets sent the wrong way but is saved by his out stretched boot, before Arnautovic fires past him in a shot ridden with power.

Some credit does have to go to the visitors for the second after some excellent passing and good movement. The fact is though, Sunderland made it far too easy. Denayer, rightly, goes to press Arnautovic but Jack Rodwell is still no where to be seen, having gone out wide and is still yet to get back into position. This leads to Papy Djilobodji getting dragged out of defence to attempt to challenge Xherdan Shaqiri, who finds a now completely free Arnautovic, who plays a one-two with Peter Crouch, who has been left free due to the space vacated by Djilobodji.

A similar goal was conceded by Sunderland against Middlesbrough, in the second game of the season, when they came in from the left wing and then worked their way in through the middle. Once again, Sunderland have failed in doing the basics by being organised against mediocre opposition which is pretty vital when you have next to no senior players available. All it would have taken for Sunderland to avoid conceding this goal was Rodwell being back in the middle, where he should have been. Or at least someone covering that area of the pitch and no leaving Denayer to essentially do two jobs at once. Appalling.

Again, you can't ignore Mannone's part in the goal. Now that Arnautovic knows where the weakness is, he takes the chance to do Vito at the near post again and there's only ever going to be one outcome when Mannone is in this form. It almost went from bad to worse for the goalkeeper when a routine Shaqiri shot was spilled out for a corner and the Italian could count himself very lucky that it didn't end up in the net.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

There was worse to come though. Peter Crouch was a constant danger to the Sunderland back line and won an embarrassing 19 aerial duels. To give additional context and to further compound the embarrassment, John O'Shea and Papy Djilobodji only won one apiece. To some extent, you accept that Crouch's height will cause problems but to let him be so dominant and not even pick up the second balls (none of his headers led to Stoke directly losing possession) is woeful.

Keeping his recent renaissance going, Crouch added a third and it was Mannone's worst moment of the match. Charlie Adam floated a simple ball into the penalty area from a deep position, the type of ball that would favour a goalkeeper every time, should he time his run and jump correctly. That's not something you're going to get from Mannone on a day like this though and all Crouch had to do was stand his ground to nod Stoke out of sight before half time.

If you want to give Mannone the benefit of the doubt here, you could say that there may have been a communication error between him and Papy Djilobodji and the defender should have dealt with the ball. The way the 'keeper rushes out suggests he gave a shout for his defenders to leave it to him though, so any exemptions of responsibility are highly generous to Mannone.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

If Sunderland were struggling in the air, they weren't exactly comfortable on the ground either. The second goal showed that. Even though Sunderland managed to claw one back through Jermain Defoe, The Potters still looked comfortable as they continued to move the ball better and get at our defence much more efficiently than The Black Cats could. When in possession, Sunderland looked blunt and ponderous, where as Stoke had plenty of purpose. Xherdan Shaqiri completed six dribbles and Arnautovic completed three, with the Sunderland rearguard looking powerless to stop them. Contrast that with the likes of Fabio Borini, Adnan Januzaj and Patrick van Aanholt, who completed only five between them.

When your attackers are looking so useless, it's not going to inspire the team into a comeback. Sunderland only had three shots on target, summing up a largely ineffectual attack. The chief culprit was Fabio Borini, missing a decent chance with one of Sunderland’s few shots on goal, only completing two of the aforementioned dribbles and not attempting a single tackle. The lack of tackles is especially jarring, given that even when Borini isn’t at his best, he usually works himself into the ground. However, it was another day of relative anonymity for the former Liverpool forward.

It seems that without Victor Anichebe, Sunderland’s game plan falls apart, in an attacking sense at least. There’s no one to hold up the ball, drag defenders out of position and open up space for others. The player doing those things doesn't even have to be Anichebe either, we should have another target man if a player of that ilk is so crucial to the way we play. Or just anyone who can at least provide a similar outlet. It emphasises just how threadbare the team is. For such a thin squad, we're far to overly reliant on individuals.

This was once again Sunderland at their worst and it was far too similar to the early season showings. A lack of ideas and no defensive cohesion whatsoever. The only hope is that the injured lads recover quickly and Moyes is able to rediscover his game plan or some money is magicked up from somewhere to give the team some desperately needed reinforcements.

I won't be holding my breath.

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