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Talking Tactics: Breaking down whatever-the-f**k Sunderland were trying to do on Saturday

Where did it go wrong for Sunderland on Saturday from a tactical perspective? Ha - where do we start...

Ditching the Plan

It only took Simon Grayson half an hour to ditch Sunderland’s latest foray into 3-5-2. In fairness, you could see the logic in using the full backs to create width given that Callum McManaman was ruled out and Aiden McGeady wasn’t fit enough to start. Without any out-and out-wingers, using wing backs like Bryan Oviedo to get up and down the flanks wasn’t exactly the worst idea in the world.

But then, things went wrong. As they always do for Sunderland.

4-4-2 - and the Dreaded Long Ball

Around the half hour mark, Grayson reverted to the flat 4-4-2 we’ve became used to. I’m not exactly sure what the thought process was here though as it didn’t really make Sunderland’s play any better or worse. Not that it could get much worse. Yes, it did allow Bryan Oviedo to play further up the field and he did well, but the general play was no different.

There was still a huge gap between the forwards (James Vaughan & Lynden Gooch) and the midfield, with absolutely no one linking up play. If you’re going to lump the ball up to Vaughan, at least have a few people available to either get on the end of his flicks or have someone to receive the ball if he brings it down. Don’t just isolate him.

This is where I had a degree of sympathy for Vaughan as well. He’s not a particularly good player but if he’s on the pitch, we might as well play to his strengths. We only put twelve crosses in all afternoon, a ridiculous notion when you have a striker who is handy in the air. Every time there were players in good wide positions, they were cutting inside and looking to work the ball through, rather than try their luck by whipping the ball in.

Getting it wide > Cutting inside

The likes of Oviedo & Matthews were picking up the ball half way up the field but, as the game wore on, kept running inside as they must have been instructed to. That isn’t a dig towards either player either, both were glimmers of light on a pretty dark day.

In fact, their link up on the left was probably the strongest aspect of our change in system. Oviedo was unlucky not to score, picked the ball up in good areas and was unfortunate to be substituted, while Matthews made more touches than any Sunderland player, demonstrating a keen attitude to be constantly involved in the game and completed a couple of nice dribbles.

Still though, they should have been encouraged to make things happen out wide, rather than persistently venturing inside.

Poor in Possession

I’m not suggesting that we don’t try and play our way through now and again but the refusal to even attempt to be effective from crosses was highly frustrating.

None of that really matters if you’re as poor in possession as we are though. Sunderland lost the ball thirty four times against Cardiff, with the opposition losing it on just eighteen occasions.

Lynden Gooch lost the ball on 11 occasions - far more than any other player on the pitch

It was a wide spread issue as Lynden Gooch conceded the ball a massive eleven times up front, meaning The Lads couldn’t build in the final third. In the middle, Didier Ndong, a player you can usually rely on the keep things neat & tidy, lost it six times - putting the team under immediate pressure. To cap it off, Marc Wilson was slightly more respectable by being robbed three times but that’s still a direct contribution to a very weak spine.

I tried to find a balance to that, hoping we won the ball back just as effectively and made some good interceptions. Obviously though, that wasn’t the case. A thoroughly depressing six interceptions (compared with Cardiff’s eighteen) further underlines the sheer ineptitude of this performance, in multiple areas. Not only can we not keep hold of the ball, we’re even worse at winning it back.

Doesn’t that just fill you with optimism ahead of a midweek trip to Ipswich?

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