Sunderland have had a better-than-average start to the season. Make no bones about it, to be unbeaten after completely revamping the club from top to bottom is quite the achievement.
Yes, we are currently sat outside the promotion places but in the wider context of everything that has happened this summer we must be pleased. That being said, there are always areas to improve on and there is plenty for Sunderland to work on in training at the moment.
The main area of concern? Set pieces. We have conceded six goals this season and five of them have came from dead ball situations. Of those five goals, three have came from corners and we have looked very poor defensively when dealing with corners so far this season.
At the weekend we looked particularly fragile in the first half when Fleetwood had a succession of corners early on. Every time the ball came into the box we looked like we could concede - eventually we did.
The worst thing about these goals from corners that we are allowing is that they have all been poor goals to concede. Luton scored a very soft goal to equalise in our second game of the season, Gillingham scored the opener after McLaughlin and the defence flapped at the cross and Fleetwood netted this weekend with probably the simplest goal they will score this season.
But what is the main problem? Well, quite simply it is height. This weekend we had started with just two players of considerable height and they were our central defenders. Lee Cattermole deserves a lot of credit because he defends that front post superbly, but in general the rest of our side is just not built to deal with set pieces.
Yet, we ended the game far bigger. Our three substitutes made the team into a more physical beast and far less likely to concede from corners. Charlie Wyke, Jerome Sinclair and Tom Flanagan were threats in both boxes and helped us deal with the physicality of Fleetwood far better in the second half.
With a bit of a tactical shuffle, Sunderland could have five players capable of winning those crucial headers at the back. Baldwin, Loovens, Wyke, Sinclair and Flanagan are all big lads and present us with a greater chance of scoring from set pieces and keeping them out at the other end.
We all knew that we needed to bring in some bigger players this summer and you could say that one area our transfer business failed in was the physical aspect. We brought in a lot of good players, but most of them lacked that bit of height and strength.
That being said, we could still line up with five big lads that will help us deal with the set piece test that teams throw at us.
With Baldwin and Loovens or Ozturk we have that physically strength at the heart of the defence. By moving Flanagan into full-back instead of Matthews or Love we will be looking at essentially three defenders who can deal with the physical battle.
Chris Maguire has been struggling and maybe it is time to give him a rest? I propose we move Oviedo onto the left side of midfield as he possesses arguably the most quality in our team. Why not utilise that further up the pitch? With him there and Hume/James behind him we will have a rock solid left-hand-side that will be defensively sound.
Then the inclusion of Wyke will give us another player capable of helping us in both boxes from set pieces. Suddenly the team looks far better accustomed to dealing with the physical set-piece battles we have been involved in all season.
Obviously this is harsh on Josh Maja who has been a revelation this season so he could potentially slot on the left side of the attacking trio and then Oviedo can go in at left back.
Boy, isn’t it nice to have options?!
I could understand the trepidation in changing a side that is not losing games, but this kind of reshuffle could be perfect in helping us tackle out Achilles heel of conceding goals from set pieces and helping us deal with that early bombardment that teams throw at us in the first 20 minutes.