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Talking Tactics: Shrewsbury v Tranmere - what the stats show that Sunderland did differently

What were the key differences between Sunderland’s performances against Tranmere and Shrewsbury? Thanks to InStat Football, we delve deep to work out what went wrong for Phil Parkinson and his players at the weekend.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


The most basic stats tell a story of a Sunderland team who managed to create a similar number of chances, but were wasteful when if came to taking them. The 15 shots Sunderland managed against Shrewsbury was only two less than in their 5-0 win against Tranmere - the 2 shots on target against Shrewsbury versus the 7 shots on target in the victory last Tuesday suggests we were unlucky not to find the back of the net.

However, the more detailed statistics hint at something more complicated than poor finishing, and instead show how Sunderland were taking on shots from more difficult positions than they did in their successful home display last week.

Take the expected goals for example - at 1.23 it was over 2 points down from Tuesday night. This suggests that, despite having only 2 less shots, Sunderland were expected to score 2 fewer goals than when they over-performed their xG of 3.28 against Tranmere.

Now, whilst this stat does show that Sunderland did create enough to get one goal - and that poor finishing led them down in part - it also shows that the positions from which Phil Parkinson’s side were having shots were less likely to result in goals.

The idea that Sunderland were shooting from unfavourable positions is supported well by another stat - the average distance from the opposition goal that they took their shots from. Against Tranmere, a performance many would describe as clinical, this distance was relatively short - just 14.8 metres (approximately 16 yards).

By contrast, against Shrewsbury this distance was significantly longer at 19.8 metres (just over 21 yards) meaning that the average distance Sunderland were taking shots from was outside of the penalty box - this describes Sunderland’s lower xG score (in general shots from further out have a lower xG) and could also indicate that Sunderland reverted to old tricks of shooting from outside the box rather than playing an extra pass to create a better goal-scoring opportunity.

As I have already mentioned, Sunderland’s troubles in front of goal were due to two reasons: poor finishing, and shooting from unfavourable positions. Analysis of the shots Sunderland took from inside the penalty box display both of these problems well.

Firstly, of Sunderland’s 8 shots from inside the box only 1 was on target, leading to a dismal shot accuracy of 13% - especially when compared with the 42% accuracy achieved in the Tranmere game.

This shows how Sunderland’s finishing was below-par in Shropshire as was the position from where the shots were taken. Sunderland took only two shots from areas which lie both in between the width of the goal and inside the box (the yellow shaded area below).

Whereas against Tranmere, 6 shots were taken from inside this area. Like the rest of the stats show, analysis of Sunderland’s shots from within the penalty area explain that we were poor in front of goal, and had too many shots from poor positions instead of playing one more pass.

InStat -


In general, the difference in passing and possession stats merely reflect the fact that Shrewsbury scored the opening goal, and therefore had a lead to hang on to, whereas Tranmere conceded first and therefore looked to be more attacking for the final hour of the game. Sunderland’s share possession and number of passes both increased from a reasonably high starting point from the Tranmere game to the Shrewsbury game.

However, the passing stats support the shooting stats in showing how Sunderland failed to create as many clear-cut opportunities when away from home. Much like Sunderland’s shooting, their problems with passing appear to concern both shooting too early (when they should have been playing the final “key pass”), and being inaccurate when attempting to play these key passes. Not only did the number of key passes Sunderland attempted reduce from 19 against Tranmere to just 13 against Shrewsbury - showing how Sunderland looked to shoot rather than play the final pass - but the accuracy of these key passes also reduced significantly from 63% against Tranmere to just 38% showing that even when Parkinson’s side looked to do the right thing and create clear opportunities, they were often sloppy in their execution.

Again, just like the shooting stats, the deeper we start to look at the passing stats from Saturday the more it becomes a microcosm of Sunderland’s performance.

For example, if we narrow the analysis of Sunderland’s key passes to only those which were attempted in the opposition penalty box, the difference in both quality and quantity between the win against Tranmere and the defeat against Shrewsbury widens.

So, against Tranmere 7 of Sunderland’s 19 key passes were attempted inside the penalty area, and the accuracy of these passes was a rather high 71% - which is actually an increase from those which were attempted in different areas of the pitch.

Against Tranmere Sunderland were both accurate with their key passes, and they attempted lost of them - a winning combination.

However, the same stats from Saturday’s game paint a much bleaker picture. Sunderland attempted under half as many key passes in the Shrews’ box, and of their 3 attempted key passes they failed to complete one. Again, a microcosm of Sunderland’s performance is shown by analysing their performance in the opposition’s penalty area - they didn’t attempt to create many clear-cut chances, and when they did, they were inaccurate.

InStat -

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