Team Selection: Looked Canny on Paper
With the news that both Adnan Januzaj and John O’Shea had been deemed fit ahead of the Southampton game, many fans were feeling optimistic ahead of the weekend’s clash. Other than the absence of Jack Rodwell through injury, the team remained the same side that dismantled Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park last weekend. The 5-3-2 system utilized by Moyes in recent weeks seemed to have finally clicked, and the player’s performances against Spurs and Palace were superb to say the least.
Alas, the time-honoured tradition of Sunderland’s one step forward, two steps back approach once again reared its ugly head.
Apart from the opening 20 minutes or so, Sunderland looked absolutely lost out there on the pitch. As soon as the Saints turned the screw we cracked, and instead of rising to the challenge we meekly cowered by sitting deeper and deeper in a desperate attempt at not conceding again. It is a serious flaw to our game that we cannot respond to a set-back when in the middle of a game; it suggests we lack leadership and mettle on the pitch - where, oh where, are Catts and Pickford?
Moyes tried his best to stick with the team that won so emphatically just the week before, and in all honesty that is exactly what every fan would want him to do. He can’t be criticised for his team selection because it is exactly the side we would have wanted to see.
Tom’s rating: 10/10 - What can we realistically complain about? It’s exactly what we would all have wanted.
Tactics: Unable to Replicate a Winning System
Although Moyes' line-up and formation was the same as last week (barring the absence of Jack Rodwell), the manner in which the players conducted themselves on the pitch was a total reverse from the displays of the last couple of games that provided so much hope.
The compact and resolute defence of games past vanished at the first sign of Manolo Gabbiadini’s movement. All 4 goals were poor in terms of our defensive positioning, and the second summed it all up really. Despite some lovely play on the Southampton right in the build up, Gabbiadini was able to turn both Kone and O’Shea with such consummate ease that eyebrows have to be raised about their positioning and communication. Furthermore, Denayer’s inability to cope with a sprightly Shane Long compounded our misery, as the Irishman gave the Belgian a torrid time.
The real failing of the team, however, was our inability to hit Southampton on the break effectively. Apart from Adnan Januzaj’s early surging run into the Southampton area, Sunderland were unable to find a way to provide any service to Jermain Defoe whatsoever.
Consequently, after the first goal was conceded, both Billy Jones and Bryan Oviedo were reluctant to push forward and offer that creative outlet. This inability to stretch Southampton’s defence through our wing-back’s counter-attacking abilities was further compounded by our inability to find time and space on the ball in the middle of the park. Last week Larsson and Ndong in particular were able to find players in space, but this week they were too preoccupied with containing Southampton’s midfield and subsequently sat deeper - stifling any opportunity to dictate play in Southampton’s half.
It’s irritating because we can all see it from the sidelines - last weekend our strength was quick play freeing Januzaj and the full-backs, yet this weekend we seemed to play it safe and pass sideways or backwards. This inability to be daring once we concede a goal is a crippling Achilles heel and will continue to hurt us should we retreat back into our shells every time something goes awry. Moyes has to instill some kind of belief and desire into the lads, that even when things aren’t going our way - we can battle back into contention.
Tom’s rating: 5/10 - We had the right idea to begin with, but after one goal conceded we seemed unable to reorganize and get back to the basics of what made last weekend’s gameplan so effective. Poor from Moyes.
Substitutions: Erm... interesting?
Pienaar and Borini both came on with no more than an hour played - a positive sign that Moyes knew something had to change. Ultimately, though, the lack of squad depth and quality is an issue that will not go away - we didn’t strengthen suitably in the January window, and therefore when our chips are down we have limited options as to who we can introduce in the hopes that they will make a difference.
Pienaar and Borini are both struggling for form, and it was a huge ask for them to turn the tide of the game. It also meant we moved away from the system that served us so well against Palace last week which further hindered the team’s ability to turn the game around. It’s a double-edged sword that Moyes is not able to wield - changing the formation to bring the struggling O’Shea out of the firing line means that the players then seem to be uncomfortable with their new roles. Both Jones and Oviedo lost any attacking impetus once we changed to a flat back four, and the subs brought on simply didn’t have the ability or form to change the game.
Wahbi Khazri was thrown on for the final ten minutes, and well, the less said about Khazri the better.
Tom’s rating: 5/10 - Moyes tried to make changes, yet they seemed to be rather rushed and really hurt our chances of getting back into the game rather than improving them. Was Pienaar ever going to help our midfield? Borini can certainly change a game, but in his current vein of form that’s a big ask. And giving Khazri 10 minutes... What’s the point? I want to give him credit for mixing things up and trying something new, but in all honesty the players just need a kick up the arse and some advice: don’t sit deep, take the game to the opposition, and don’t be afraid to try something.
Post-Match Comments: Jekyll and Hyde
Moyes is generally very honest in his assessments of the game, and while sometimes that’s just the tonic we need, sometimes it just doesn’t work.
We didn't play well, not as well as last week. We made some defensive mistakes.
We had a great chance to maybe move out of the bottom three had the games gone for us, but unfortunately it didn't fall for us. Southampton themselves had fragile confidence, but they got a goal off their centre-forward's arm.
We played OK without creating too many clear-cut opportunities, and the more attacking changes we made the worse we became.
Moyes is pretty assertive in his claims that he knows we didn’t do well enough, and that work must be done on the defensive side of things. Great. However, Moyes’ inability to accurately convey just what went wrong out on the pitch is slightly worrying. Throwing Pienaar on at half-time did nothing to address the issues affecting the squad - it seemed like it was born out of sheer hope.
When interviewed by the club’s website, however, Moyes showed the Hyde to his Jekyll.
There was an awful lot of expectation on us to win today, but I think a lot of it was a bit misguided, a bit misjudged.
I can’t understand, or really even defend, statements like this. It reeks of sheer negativity. Coming off the back of two good performances and 4 vital points, fans had high hopes of securing a good result; to suggest that hope and optimism is misguided is a terrible assertion that damages the fan’s ability to keep the faith.
Tom’s Rating: 4/10 - Poor performance, and a disappointing reaction to the first half. The problems appear to be pretty straightforward, but a lack of depth and quality means we will struggle to address those issues effectively. Those comments about our optimism being misguided is a real kick in the teeth - not something Moyes needed to address.