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Talking Tactics: Burnley (H) - Boring, boring Sunderland... where’s the fight?

Against a Burnley side who haven’t won away from home all season, Sunderland failed to notch their second win of 2017. It was a coma-inducing encounter, where both sides had their share of chances and The Lads continued to look like the team who failed to win any of their first ten games - bereft of ideas and devoid of any fight. But that should surprise no one, given who is currently in the dugout.

Dan Abbott | Roker Report

The Unbelievable Omission Of Ndong

In the latest episode of “Moyes Baffles The Supporters”, the Sunderland manager decided to drop Didier Ndong - the best midfielder that we currently have available. The hardest working player Sunderland currently have available. The best ball retainer Sunderland currently have available. All qualities that Moyes has said Wahbi Khazri doesn’t possess, and that’s why the Tunisian talisman is warming the bench.

Sunderland v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

With Darron Gibson, Seb Larsson & Jack Rodwell making up the midfield three, it was difficult to see what the actual tactical reason may have been for hooking Ndong. Rodwell offers height - a department where Burnley have murdered Sunderland in this season - but that sole reason would be rather pithy, especially when Ndong brings many more essential attributes to the table.

That being said, a Rodwell recall was justified. He’d been doing ok before his injury and adding some height to the midfield wasn’t the worst idea Moyes has ever had but Ndong was not the player to take out. Looking like a man finished at Premier League level for weeks now (and it truly does pain me to say that) Larsson should have been the one to make way. Aside from a nice cross to Billy Jones (more on that later) his performance against The Clarets did nothing to halt the calls that the beautiful Swede should be dropped.

While Gibson hasn’t exactly been brilliant himself lately, there are still some redeeming features and this was his best display since arriving on Wearside. In possession, he was tidy with the joint highest pass completion percentage in the Sunderland ranks and he worked hard off the ball to try and disrupt Burnley as much as possible. There’s an obvious lack of leadership in The Black Cats midfield right now and Gibson needs to step up and take that responsibility in that department, especially alongside the often nervous Rodwell and the raw Ndong. A midfield three of Gibson, Rodwell & Ndong might not be your first choice with every Sunderland player fit but it’s the best we can do right now.

Come on, Dave. It’s time to drop Seb.

Why Is Moyes So Reluctant To Back To A System That Worked?

Okay, so Lamine Kone got a knock in training and perhaps that scuppered any potential of Dynamic Dave going back to the 3-5-1-1 system that saw Sunderland pick up four points from Spurs & Crystal Palace. Why should it nix those plans though? I mean, you signed Jolean Lescott for a reason, didn’t you Dave? You even had Papy Djilobodji warming up for what seemed like the entire game, why not use them?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying either Lescott or Papy would solve our problems but at least we would be watching a team that has something resembling a plan. You may point to the fact that we kept a clean sheet with a back four but that’s not the point. The point is, how the team operate further up the pitch when playing with a 3-5-1-1.

Sunderland v Burnley - Premier League Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

A 4-3-3 formation doesn’t suit Sunderland or the players at Moyes’ disposal. It worked with Victor Anichebe holding things up and Duncan Watmore chasing everything down but without those two (or players of a similar ilk) it’s done nothing for us.

Adnan Januzaj looked really bright on Saturday and was our best attacking threat but due to being shifted out wide, he was often left isolated and unable to cause Burnley real damage. It made Jermain Defoe feel like a man on a desert island as well, as both Burnley centre halves were able to comfortably deal with our only threat through the middle, not allowing him a single shot on goal.

There are certainly risks to playing the ageing Lescott and the unpredictable Djilobodji but Sunderland have to take risks right now. Throwing them in might not make the defence a brick wall but it will allow the full backs to get further up the pitch, while Januzaj can play with freedom in the middle.

The injury to Kone doesn’t sound too serious, so Lescott or Djilobodji might not even be required, but either way a return to 3-5-1-1 gives Sunderland a much more cohesive attack, something we are crying out for after going four games without a goal.

Which brings me neatly on to...

The Goalscoring Issue Is Becoming An Epidemic

You only had to see the way Billy Jones shanked his header as evidence of that. It was a perfect cross from Sebastian Larsson and with Jones completely unmarked, he possibly had too much time to think about it. That would explain why instead of at least forcing Tom Heaton into a save, it seemed like the right back tried to nod it towards Jermain Defoe to apply the finish.

Long before David Moyes took the hot seat, Sunderland had been overly reliant on Defoe to stick the ball away but someone else needs to take some responsibility up front. Even if it’s just one other player. It’s all well and good having Defoe as the main man, a role he thrives upon, but for the love of god can someone at least have a go at being confident in front of goal?

Take Fabio Borini for instance. A delicious ball from Bryan Oviedo put Borini through, only for Heaton to comfortably collect his tame effort. Cast your mind back three years ago and you’ll remember Borini burying a similar chance at Wembley, on a much grander stage, which summarises just how lacking in confidence the Italian and indeed the rest of the Sunderland frontmen are during those crucial moments.

Credit - Iain Buist


It’s hard to see a way back for Sunderland, that much is clear. Not only is the team lacking in quality in certain areas but they now look low in confidence, riddled with doubt and just down right scared. You have to wonder if the players are being infected by their manager, whose constant lack of positivity must start having an affect at some point.

It’s bad enough when you’re struggling and you have the supporters putting pressure on you - Moyes constantly bemoaning our ‘lack of quality’ is hardly going to inspire you to take risks and conjure the magic required to pull off another miraculous escape.

David Moyes is going nowhere and is bizarrely one of the most secure managers in the division, despite sending his team out with only one simple instruction - get the ball to Jermain Defoe. It’s not a bad idea in principle but when you play a system that stifles the creativity out of every other player and plays to none of their strengths, you’re not going to get much joy.

It’s got to the point where tactics are almost redundant. Sunderland need someone to remind them that they’re capable of winning games. They need a motivator, someone who will make them feel united and capable of beating anyone - at the moment they can’t even beat a team who, before Saturday, had only won two points away from home this season.

Make as many excuses as you like for Moyes but if he can’t get his team to at least score a goal against a team who travel so poorly then there’s clearly something seriously wrong.

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