Gabbiadini Terrorises The Defence...
As much as I'd like to just lay in to Sunderland, there were a couple of excellent performances from Southampton which cannot be ignored.
Manolo Gabbiadini roasted the Sunderland back-line and his brilliant movement was too much for our static defenders. A look at Gabbiadini’s heatmap shows just how much ground he covered, especially when out of possession, and the rigid nature of The Black Cats back three meant the Italian was always going to give them problems.
In Sunderland’s previous two outings - where they kept clean sheets - it was against two strikers who were a lot less mobile - Christian Benteke and Harry Kane.
Both Benteke and Kane are obviously talented forwards but, aside from their finishing, their key strengths are their aerial ability and hold up play. Due to their physicality, the likes of Lamine Kone and John O’Shea were able to thwart the attempts of their previous opponents but they looked lost when it came to dealing with a striker of Gabbiadini’s nature.
For both of his goals, Gabbiadini showed great instinct. First to get in between O’Shea and Kone to steer to ball towards goal, even though there may have been the use of an arm in the finish. The second was far poorer from a Sunderland perspective however, with Kone being nowhere near tight enough to Gabbiadini, which gave him the time to turn and finish with ease. Perhaps Kone was reluctant to get as close to his man due to the fact that Gabbiadini had given him the run around all afternoon and getting too close could have easily saw him turned or beaten for pace. Either way, it was poor decision-making from the Ivorian centre half and the Saints striker punished his hesitation.
... Whilst Romeu & Davis Run The Midfield
With Gabbiadini in such fine form it was crucial that Sunderland won their battles in midfield to limit the supply to him as much as possible. Unfortunately, Oriol Romeu wasn’t about to let that happen.
After two impressive showings in the games previous to this one, Didier Ndong needed to keep up his form against the Saints midfield but Romeu, along with Steven Davis, gave an effortless performance. The combined pass completion average of both Romeu and Davis was a superb 90.5%, whilst they combined to win five tackles, and Romeu won three aerial duels.
The three Sunderland midfielders who started the game, however, could only complete 80% of their passes, won the same amount of tackles and only Seb Larsson won any aerial duels.
The Southampton midfield, in most departments, did more than the Sunderland midfield, despite the home side having an extra man in that area - to say it was a very poor afternoon for Moyes’ middle men would be an understatement.
The worrying thing is that the midfield that played at the weekend is probably the best that we have until some alternative options recover from injuries. You would hope that Lee Cattermole wouldn’t allow Romeu to bully Ndong so easily, and his return can’t come soon enough.
There’s a a mental fragility in the team at present, with collapses such as this becoming a common occurrence. There’s obvious talent with a player such as Ndong but there’s only so much he can do with a half fit Darron Gibson to one side of him and the far less consistent Sebastian Larsson on the other. The support of Cattermole, or even Jan Kirchhoff, could hugely benefit Ndong and have the Sunderland midfield not just looking stronger, but more consistent and dependable.
We can only hope.
Unsuccessful Formation Tweaks
It was no surprise that the older legs of O’Shea were hooked at half time, as David Moyes looked to alter his system. The switch from 3-5-1-1 to a more conventional 4-5-1 didn’t yield anything positive though and things remained just as bad.
It was clear that O’Shea was struggling to keep up with Gabbiadini so an injection of energy was perhaps required to give the team a much-needed boost - which makes it all the more baffling that Steven Pienaar was introduced in his place.
The only reason I can think of for bringing on Pienaar was to keep an experienced head on the pitch but the slow, meandering midfielder wasn’t what Sunderland needed. It’s not Pienaar’s fault that he’s advanced in years but it’s still pretty damning that Moyes keeps going back to him in times of crisis.
Winning one tackle in 45 minutes shows how ineffective Pienaar was in the midfield, as the change in system did little to swing the initiative in Sunderland’s favour. Being behind, you’d have expected the home side to at least create more chances than the opposition, especially with Saints looking content to protect their lead. Such was the hapless nature of Sunderland’s forward play - it invited Southampton forward to further punish The Lads. Claude Puel’s team had 10 shots in the second half, double the amount they did in the first, continued to dominate the ball and constantly robbed Sunderland of possession.
It was understandable that Moyes kept the same formation that had worked in the previous outings but he was far too rash in making changes at half time. While keeping the 3-5-1-1 may not have resulted in Sunderland pulling the game back, at least the players would have had some idea of what they were supposed to do. The chop and change nature of the second half just left the players looking confused and unsure of their roles, which led to Southampton turning respectable defeat to down right embarrassment.