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ROKER ROUNDTABLE: What formation should Jack Ross’ Sunderland play next season in League One?

We’re going through a bit of a rebuild at present and there’s still plenty of work to do. What formation would you play if you were Sunderland manager Jack Ross, though?

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Mark Carrick: 3-5-2!

As Sunderland manager Jack Ross looks to add even more players to his squad during our summer re-build, I can’t help but think employing a 3-5-2 system could be the way forward.

Jon McLaughlin has quite clearly been brought in to be number one, and Dylan McGeough is likely to feature as the lynchpin in Sunderland’s midfield. How you build around them is open to debate, but the early signs seem to suggest that we’ll start with two players who can sit deep in the midfield.

Perhaps the difficulty with that as a base raises the question - how do you generate mobility and attacking threat? Playing three at the back certainly starts to solve the problem.

Alim Ozturk and Tom Flanagan have already been signed as two who could be our centre-backs next season with probably another couple, at least, being targeted. Interestingly, Flanagan has such versatility as to play anywhere across the back line and even said he was comfortable in a back three.

Reece James has been brought in as an attacking full-back and we already have two of those in Adam Matthews and Donald Love. The scene could be set for a system that gives us defensive stability, but attacking potential.

With McGeough looking to create and one other there to support, we could deploy a third, more attack-minded midfielder just ahead of them. George Honeyman scored seven goals in the Championship and could bag a few more in League One. Lynden Gooch can play that central attacking role, as could Aiden McGeady or the emerging talent, Elliot Embleton.

Playing a main striker and a number ten, who could drop deep into a midfield pack or run beyond the striker, would keep us solid but on the front foot. Someone like Charlie Wyke could provide the focal point with any number of options behind him. Chris Maguire, Josh Maja, or the returning Duncan Watmore could all play that role.

3-5-2 would play to the strengths of a number of players but perhaps none more so than Dylan McGeough, who could be the star of League One next season.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Phil Butler - 4-2-3-1!

I have to admit I am a huge fan of three at the back, but after watching Chris Coleman use it with virtually no success last season I think we should go back to basics, at least in terms of formation. That, coupled with how I think our squad is shaping up means I would like to see a 4-2-3-1.

What we do have at Sunderland is an abundance of deep lying midfielders - Ethan Robson, Dylan McGeouch, Lee Cattermole and possible new signing George Evans are all comfortable in that role and, given Cattermole’s lack of legs it is probably for the best if he has some support in the centre of the park.

The two defensive midfielders allow Sunderland to play four attacking players without being too open in defence. This should allow us to see the best of Aiden McGeady who, as we all know, isn’t the best at tracking back.

Other players such as Lynden Gooch could also thrive under this system, especially when given freedom to roam in the final third.

Another upside of 4-2-3-1 is that it utilises someone in the ten position, and I think George Honeyman could be perfect if Jack Ross opts for a high pressing system. The academy graduate seems to get lost in the centre of the park and loses his technical ability to sheer hard work and running. Further up the pitch would allow Honeyman to better his seven goals last season and regain some of the composure he had on the ball for the under 23s.

The presence of three attacking midfielders also prevents the lone striker from becoming isolated up front; something which has been a theme over the last couple of seasons at Sunderland. This would allow a target man or a poacher depending on the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.

4-2-3-1 provides a solid base for some attacking football which is long overdue and is also flexible enough to avoid becoming worked out by the opposition.

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland, Grimsby
Lynden Gooch heading the Lads into the lead against Grimsby on Tuesday night.
Sunderland AFC

Jake Hannah - 4-4-2!

With the increasing likelihood of Jack Ross landing two or three very high profile strikers for this league, I wanted to find a system in which the gaffer could afford himself the opportunity to play two up top - something that has been very much pushed aside in the upper echelons of English football.

While a more fashionable three at the back was also an option, I can’t help but be reluctant to trust a Sunderland defence to deploy a tactic not ingrained into them since the start of their careers. Maybe that is a result of the numerous failed attempts of Chris Coleman last term to deploy the system, or the countless years of ongoing calamities at the back under previous regimes.

Our sheer quality on the wings and subsequent ability to deliver the ball into the box also aided the choice of formation. On the other side, we have the option of Aiden McGeady or even the likes of Lynden Gooch or Luke Molyneux, who could do well at this level.

My only worry is that two in midfield may be a struggle at times against an athletic three, but if we start players with the quality of McGeouch and the hopefully incoming Evans then we can control that aspect of the game when up against any team in this league.

No matter what formation we play though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some high-scoring games this season - just hopefully we’re on the right end of them.


What formation would you play if you were Jack Ross?

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