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Pace & Power; Sunderland’s basic physical attribute neglect during recruitment sees them suffer

“Quite why not one of the managers we’ve had in charge recently seems to have been able to address the issue with pace and physicality in Sunderland’s side is beyond me,” writes @Gav1879.

Sunderland Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

With each failed management reign at Sunderland has came a failed bout of player recruitment - poor business in the transfer market tends to be the main reason that sees a manager off at Sunderland, as with it comes poor results and even worse football.

Every summer it seems as though we face yet another rebuilding job, and with each passing year the manager saddled with the task of restructuring our side has a budget even smaller than the last man in his position.

And, as a result, we find ourselves where we are currently - with a squad that has been bodged together by various managers, with very few, if any, actually suiting a particular playing style or ethos.

The majority of the players we have left over from our decade in the Premier League are here because they were cast aside by their previous clubs, largely due to a litany of reasons ranging from poor attitudes to awful injury records and more.

Sunderland Training Session
Captain sloooooooooooooooooooooow.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Quite why, despite all of this, not one of the managers we’ve had in charge seems to have addressed the issue with pace and physicality in Sunderland’s side is beyond me.

Duncan Watmore has a long term injury, and you could argue that he’s the only senior player in our entire squad who has that raw ability to carry the ball forward at speed.

As a result we suffer massively in each and every game, and it’s never been more evident than in the last two seasons.

You just need to take one look at our recent inability to score goals whilst playing with a five-man defence as an example of how we’re completely incapable of breaking down teams on the counter, and it’s in no small part due to the face we just have no pace or power in our side.

Sunderland v Everton - Premier League
Remember when we were quick?
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The last time we did, we had Sam Allardyce as manager. We had Patrick van Aanholt, DeAndre Yedlin and Duncan Watmore - all players signed prior to his arrival - and that abundance of pace was combined with a solid defence and a clinical forward line which, eventually, achieved successful results.

This season we’ve been battered from pillar to post, and in the majority of the games we’ve lost we’ve simply been out-battled and out-ran by teams that possess better athletes than we do. That’s it. Cardiff weren’t even that good at the weekend, yet ended up four goals better off than ourselves - the first of which came from a set piece that we simply weren’t able to deal with, yet again because we’re small and weak.

The teams we seem to have been able to stand up to this season - Norwich, Wolves and Fulham being the most notable examples - are all sides that play a possession-based, methodical style of football. It’s no coincidence that their complete lack of pace or power on the day (Fulham actually had some decent wide-players on the pitch but failed to bring them into the game) played into our hands.

Norwich City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Sunderland made easy work of Norwich earlier in the season after they attempted to pass us off the park
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Even sh*t teams have athletic players. It’s all that you need if you’re going to beat Sunderland - play a couple of pacy wide-men that can deliver crosses into the box, take your chances on set pieces with your bigger players... and that’s it.

It’s become all-too familiar and it’s just not good enough. Even though we have a ridiculous amount of injuries, I don’t actually think that we’d be that much better off with some of those players available to us, Watmore aside.

Simon Grayson had next to nothing to spend in the summer but we still spent what we did have on crap players.

The majority of our budget went on Jason Steele and James Vaughan because Championship experience was preferred to recruiting players that could genuinely alter the way that we play. Instead of looking down the leagues for bargains that would offer us some raw pace and physicality, we brought in small, slow players and instead tried to move towards playing a long ball game, as evidenced further by the bizarre move before the start of the season to shorten the size of the pitch at the Stadium of Light.

Peterborough United v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One
Marcus Maddison has all the credentials to be a success higher up the leagues, but previously we’ve never considered someone from League 1
Getty Images

The scale of the task that Chris Coleman faces is even more difficult, particularly when you consider that he has absolutely nothing in the way of money to improve the squad that he’s got.

The players that he does have are nowhere near physical or energetic enough to carry out the high-intensity, counter-attacking game that he traditionally prefers his sides to play.

As a result we are floundering. We’ve settled on a style of play but don’t have the players to play it. Coleman’s only real hope is that he can use the loan market and somehow bring in players that will offer us attributes that his current players are lacking, and they not only stay fit but hit the ground running and bring us immediate success.

It’s a tough ask - not one that I am sure is entirely possible when you haven’t a single penny to spend. Talented footballers tend to come at a premium, and even clubs in League One and Two are going to want fair compensation in exchange for their best players.

Preston North End v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Watmore aside, where is the pace in our squad?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Irregardless of what league Sunderland find themselves in next summer, they have to start getting with the times, recruiting players that will give you half a chance of breaking down poor teams, even on a bad day.

Unless you possess the mega-bucks that the likes of Wolves have, it’s near impossible to buy real quality ball-players capable of passing teams off the park.

We need to start looking towards more athletic players, ones that’ll give us physicality down the spine of the team and then pace out wide. Ones that can turn us from being weak on set pieces to a side that is difficult to deal with when corners and crosses come into the box.

It’s glaringly obvious what we lack and it feels like it has been screaming in our face for years now. Surely someone at the club recognises this and will address it sooner rather than later... right?

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