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Is John O’Shea arguably Sunderland’s most influential player? The stats behind Tuesday’s defeat

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If the stats coming away from Tuesday night’s game at Birmingham teach us anything, it’s that Sunderland rely heavily on John O’Shea’s influence to organise and dictate the flow of games.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Did We Miss John O’Shea?

It was abundantly clear on Tuesday that our defence lacked leadership and organisation, mainly due to the absence of our skipper, John O’Shea.

Tyias Browning had an abysmal evening in regards to his passing, and you could perhaps attribute this to his inexperience and the lack of direction from his teammates the back. O’Shea is generally always available to take a simple five-yard pass from Browning, but as that option was unavailable to him the Everton Loanee more often than not resorted to hopeless punts up the field into areas where Sunderland simply couldn’t be a threat to their opponents.

Browning had a 39.5% pass success rate, and what is worse, he opted to play 16 long balls - with only one hitting its intended target.

While Browning was the main culprit, the back three as a unit seemed to opt for the long pass rather than trying to play out from the defence.

The infographic below shows the long passes played against Birmingham and Hull - clearly the defence last night struggled with playing it short, and that cost us possession throughout the ninety minutes.

Against Hull we saw a defence that looked comfortable in possession - can we largely put that down to John O’Shea’s calming influence? How can a team possibly play on the front foot and build an attack if three of their most important players are incapable of playing a decent pass?

Positionally the defence had far less of a licence in order to move forward against Birmingham, as Browning and Clarke-Salter generally held their position rather than bring the ball from the back.

Perhaps the most irritating, troubling aspect of our performance on Tuesday night is the fact that we look so defensively weak - both in terms of organisation and possession - without John O’Shea’s presence in the side.

If Sunderland are to hold any hopes of survival then - whether you think that it signals their absolute desperation or not - they need to have John O’Shea marshaling the back line and organising us week in, week out.

Cardiff City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Honeyman Poor Due To Bad Deployment?

Last week, against Hull, George Honeyman and Bryan Oviedo dominated the left hand side for Sunderland, which was crucial in their victory.

On Tuesday, Chris Coleman seemingly deployed Honeyman on the right hand side to link up with Adam Matthews - a decision that provided us with very little in the way of success.

As you can see from the above image, Honeyman and Oviedo spent virtually all their time on the left hand side together last week, but at Birmingham the pair were on opposite sides of the pitch for the majority of the evening.

Oviedo is quickly becoming our best attacking outlet from his left wing-back position, and having a hardworking player like Honeyman playing closely to him gives him freedom to maraud forward and create chances.

Mind, Coleman’s tactical decision to deploy him on the opposite side of the pitch cannot be blamed for Honeyman’s wastefulness in possession on Tuesday night. The young midfielder gave the ball away 12 times against Birmingham - a figure that is far too high for a player that we, rightly or wrongly, rely on to contribute effectively in attacking areas.

Robson Still Looks Good

Last week I wrote about how good Ethan Robson was against Hull, and despite Sunderland losing on Tuesday, the youngster was still a solid performer.

The 21 year old academy product continued to dominate in the air, was efficient with the ball and kept our midfield moving forward - he made 38 forward passes on the night, which was the most of any Sunderland player.

If we compare the heatmap of Robson and Cattermole (pictured below) we can see stark differences between the movement of the two. The latter was all over the place, but the former tended not to stray from his position as a right sided central midfield player.

The protection that Robson and Catts provided last week to the defence came because both players stayed central, but this week Cattermole was deployed as a pressing midfielder - something that he quite clearly is not capable of executing effectively.

If Chris Coleman wants to see his midfield perform like they did against Hull again, he needs Cattermole to be more calm and disciplined with his positioning.

Cattermole Back To His Usual Self?

Is there a more divisive figure amongst Sunderland’s squad than Lee Cattermole?

His form this season has been, to put it nicely, inconsistent. In truth, ‘inconsistent’ is being kind to Cattermole, who has floundered ever since putting a decent shift in on the opening day of the campaign against Derby County.

Tuesday night was not a good one for Lee. His 36 passes and 47 touches were the lowest of any of Sunderland’s midfield five, and his passing accuracy sat at just 72.2%.

Remember how at one time Catts could spray a ball from left to right with pin-point accuracy? Well, at Birmingham he had a shocking 33% long pass completion rate - a clear indication of the decline in his ability and, perhaps, a lack of confidence.

Last weeks buzz about the former Wigan midfielder and how he looked to be back to his normal self seemed to have been an anomaly. At St Andrews we saw what we expect of Cattermole now - a player with miles on the clock who can no longer influence the game in the way which he used to.

Maybe Catts needs to simplify or change his game - I would argue that he could benefit from learning to stay in position and not try to influence proceedings from all over the pitch, more in the sort of role that he held when Gus Poyet was manager, as an anchor operating in front of the defence.

If you look at his heat map below you can see that he struggled to stay central against Birmingham, following the ball around the pitch rather than sticking to his position. The days where Cattermole could maraud around putting in big tackles are over - he needs to conserve his energy and become more of a focal point.