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How Sunderland completely and utterly failed to out-play Sheffield United - Talking Tactics

Saturday’s defeat to Sheffield United saw Sunderland give their most tactically-exposed performance of the season. How much of the blame does Simon Grayson take?
Dan Abbott

Changing Shape = Changing Nothing

Pretty much every Sunderland supporter wanted a change in formation ahead of our game with Sheffield United this past weekend. The defeats to Leeds United and Barnsley showed that we aren’t capable of playing in a 4-4-2 every week, and a shake up was certainly needed. So when The Lads lined up in a 3-5-2 against Sheffield United, I felt refreshed - I felt like we were seeing a change.

There was no difference at all though. Despite lining up in a different order, Sunderland didn’t alter their style of play at all. The alteration in the system should mean that there’s plenty to talk about but Sunderland were so lifeless that there’s not really a lot to be said.

Aimless balls were lumped towards James Vaughan, who was contained comfortably by the Blades defence. There was very little in the way of imagination in our attack, meaning our two strikers had to play closer to each other, which seemed absolutely pointless. I don’t want to condone Lewis Grabban’s sulking but I do have a degree of sympathy for any striker playing in a team who are simply incapable of creating chances.

Lacking Creativity

It took until the 94th minute for Sunderland register a shot on target, when Jack Rodwell’s header gave the score an undeserved whiff of credibility - it is simply not good enough. It’s not like you could even see what Sunderland were trying to do, when it came to going forward. I wish I could take a sliver of positivity and say that United just thwarted our every attempt to break through, but they didn’t have to - there was nothing to thwart. We were without threat, completely insipid as we lumbered to the final third before looking completely clueless.

To give Jonny Williams some credit, he often looked bright and tried to force chances but the movement of the front two was so static that there was just nothing on for him. There’s only so much buzzing about an energetic midfielder can do before they get sucked into the same abhorrent black hole.

Left Back Galloway continues to give us headaches

Brendan Galloway looked like a scared competition winner on our left-hand side, constantly looking for someone to tell him what he should do or where he should be. It says everything that George Honeyman, a player who has spent his entire career and development as an attacker, looked a more comfortable wing back than the Everton loanee and a look at Galloway’s pass completion percentages is even more jarring. With 46% completed, Galloway gave the ball away more often than he found a team mate, while his suspect positioning opened up further opportunities for the visitors as they continued to target our left flank.

Bryan Oviedo needs to overcome his injury quickly as even when Galloway is pushed higher up, in a view to keep him out of trouble and given an extra centre half to help him even further, he looks massively out of his depth.

5-3-2 needs to go back on the shelf... for now

Throwing this formation out so quickly may seem rash but given the nature of this performance, I don’t think anyone will begrudge Simon Grayson putting 3-5-2 on the shelf for a while.

Even if Aiden McGeady misses the Nottingham Forest game, a switch to 4-3-3 seems the most logical. The run out Callum McManaman got will hopefully be enough to see him get at least an hour on Tuesday night and if McGeady is unavailable, George Honeyman should be able to deputise.

With both wingers cutting inside and getting closer to Lewis Grabban, who will hopefully be preferred to James Vaughan if Grayson does indeed elect to change system, Sunderland might be able to muster more than one shot on target. Big expectations, I know.

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