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Moyes Shows His Quality To Help Sunderland Bounce Back

Sunderland bounced back from their Burnley horror show with a superb performance against title-chasing Liverpool, and the manager deserves huge credit for that.

Sunderland v Watford - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

David Moyes couldn’t resist a cheeky dig at the media and Jurgen Klopp in Monday’s post-match press conference. And he had every right to be pleased for himself after masterminding a superb performance against one of the country’s leading teams.

A visit from Liverpool was one of the last things that Sunderland needed after the New Year’s Eve trouncing at Burnley. But rather than capitulate, as many may have expected Sunderland to do, the Lads gave one of their best performances of the season, and the manager really deserves credit for that.

Sunderland were playing for personal pride, along with points of course, and their manager with a hint of a chip on his shoulder following Klopp’s comments the last time the teams met.

The visit to Burnley was a disaster, and quite frankly, a shock to the system. Moyes pulled no punches and was very frank in his post-Burnley interview, telling Sky Sports:

I think that is as bad a performance as I have been involved with, in any side, especially defensively. We were useless.

The Burnley result, although dominant on their part, really turned on the departure of Lamine Kone. Moyes’ initial decision to deploy John O’Shea in defensive midfield looked to be paying off, with Burnley’s direct approach struggling to breach the backline. It was only when Kone left the pitch through injury, and O’Shea was moved back to the heart of defence, that Sunderland fell apart. Moyes had clearly identified Burnley’s main strength and adapted accordingly – a lack of squad depth meant that he again had to change after injury struck however, and not for the better.

But still, he refused to blame injuries on Sunderland’s performance:

At this time of year, every team struggles with injuries and suspensions, and we are no different. We will cope with it.

he said, rather defiantly, showing belief in his players. And cope with it Sunderland did. In an interesting twist, Moyes actually took inspiration from Burnley in his approach to facing Liverpool. Not in terms of attacking play, but in how they defended with discipline, solidarity and team pressing. The Clarets had drawn the blueprint on how to beat Liverpool, and while not followed to perfection, Sunderland did a pretty decent job of imitating Sean Dyche’s men.

Again, Moyes had identified Liverpool’s main strengths. Only this time, his side were able to sustain their efforts in nullifying them. Even so, the way in which he set out his side was somewhat risky. It would have been easy, particularly after the thrashing at Burnley, to overload the midfield and defence and leave Jermain Defoe isolated up top. Instead, Moyes opted for what was almost a 4-4-2, with Adnan Januzaj pushing right up alongside Defoe. And it worked a treat. The pair tirelessly pressed the Liverpool defence, restricting their ability to play out from the back and causing Liverpool to play an unusually high number of long balls.

Sunderland v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Victor Anichebe’s injury looked set to be crippling for Sunderland – and it still is – but Januzaj displayed a surprising amount of strength as he held the ball up well, allowing his teammates to advance up the pitch.

Behind the front two, Moyes’ flat midfield four looked to pressure the Liverpool players on the ball. Didier Ndong in particular was relentless, while Fabio Borini and Seb Larsson worked tirelessly on the wings. The decision to play Larsson out wide was a superb one from Moyes. If there’s one thing that you can say about the Swede, it’s that he never stops running. His workrate ensured that Liverpool weren’t allowed the freedom of the right wing through Sadio Mane and Nathaniel Clyne.

It was probably never in doubt, but Moyes could quite easily have been tempted to replace Vito Mannone with Mika. The Italian marked his return to the side with a horror show performance at Burnley, but Moyes showed faith in the shopper, who duly returned the favour with an outstanding showing. It may be something small, but it’s a testament to the faith he appears to have in his players and showed a resistance to making rash decisions. Papy Djilobodji has improved immeasurably since the earlier days of the season, despite his performance on Saturday, and Moyes persisting with him has played a big part in that.

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

Of course, injuries dictated that Moyes had very little to choose from, but he used what he had at his disposal to near perfection.

One of the major criticisms of Moyes has been his substitutions, but we can have no complaints about them on Monday. Liverpool had brought on wing back Alberto Moreno to give their attack more pace and drive, and it worked to an extent, with the Spaniards pace giving Borini and Donald Love more to think about. Moyes responded by replacing Jack Rodwell with Javier Manquillo, who sat in front of Love. It’s a tactic that the manager has tried to use on numerous occasions, but it’s never really seemed to pay off, until now. Moreno did manage to create two chances, but his heatmap shows that he was largely pushed away from the Sunderland goal, and Moyes deserves credit for realising the threat and adjusting his side to combat it.

When the full time whistle blew, it was a thoroughly well-earned point for David Moyes and Sunderland.

Earlier in the season, I’ve been critical of Moyes’ attitude and demeanour, probably unfairly when you look how the season has gone, but he was on top form in the post-match press conference. He credited his players and the supporters while remaining grounded and seemed very pleased with himself. It was nice to see – he deserves to feel happy with himself and the team after that.

Things have been far from rosy under Moyes, and he’s not blameless in that regard, despite the ongoing situation behind the scenes. Some of his decisions, quite frankly, have been baffling, but this was a game in which he really excelled, and he deserves major credit for inspiring that performance from the team. Let’s just hope that we can put in more performances like that. Three cheers for the gaffer!