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Statistics highlight major flaw in Sunderland’s attacking gameplan & where we’re going wrong

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Whilst it’s undeniable that things aren’t working on the pitch right now for Sunderland, a look at the stats from our 1-0 defeat away to Gillingham show exactly where we’re going wrong.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sunderland were pretty dreadful in their one-nil defeat away to Gillingham last weekend - a defeat that saw the club fall to it’s lowest every league position for now.

However, after looking at the stats from last weekend’s game, it’s clear to see where the issues lie regarding Sunderland’s stale attack.

Below is a screenshot from InStat, the site we use to find data from Sunderland’s games. The red square on the image is a comparison of Gillingham’s passing (left column) against Sunderland’s (right column).

As you can see, in general Sunderland were the more accurate team in terms of passing with a 79% completion rate. However, the crucial issues with Sunderland’s play can be found highlighted in red.

Sunderland passing stats vs. Gillingham (7/12/19)
InStat

Simply put, Gillingham were much better at working the ball into Sunderland’s box. They tried 50 passes into our area compared to the Lads attempting a paltry 22. Furthermore, 26 of their 50 passes into our box were accurate, whereas a mere 7 of our 22 attempts found a man in red and white.

The same can be noted of Gillingham’s attempts at crossing the ball into Sunderland’s box. Gillingham tried 19 crosses, 6 of which found their target - Sunderland tried 8 crosses, 2 of those were accurate.

Gillingham were also more adventurous with the ball, trying 188 passes in the final third of the pitch with a success rate of 64%. Sunderland, on the other hand, attempted 129 passes in the opposition’s final third with the same success rate as Gillingham.

The analysis is pretty simple in that Sunderland just didn’t show enough attacking intent. We don’t get the ball into the opposition’s area enough to fashion a decent amount of chances - something Parkinson said he would address after being hired by the club.

If you analyse Sunderland’s stats with league leaders, Wycombe, you can see a huge disparity in the attacking intentions. On average, Wycombe look to pass the ball into the opposition’s penalty area 38 times per game, with 20 of those attempts finding success. Sunderland, on the other hand, try to pass the ball into the box 33 times per game, with only 13 of those passes being successful.

On average Wycombe find a teammate in the opposition's penalty box 7 extra times per game than Sunderland. In a game of numbers, Wycombe give themselves a far better chance at creating a goalscoring opportunity.

It’s also worth noting that only three teams in the league have a worse percentage of passes completed into the opposition’s box - no the wonder we’re not scoring.

League One averages re: passing into opposition’s box and crossing.
InStat

But it’s not just the fact that Sunderland aren’t fashioning enough opportunities to score, it’s that key players in certain positions are also struggling to affect the game in a positive manner.

Against Gillingham, Sunderland managed 8 crosses, with 5 attempts from Conor McLaughlin, 1 attempt from George Dobson, and 2 from Luke O’Nien. Furthermore, only 2 of those attempted crosses actually found a Sunderland player.

If you’re going to play with wingbacks, then those players need to be creative outlets. McLaughlin certainly tried to be, but lacked any real quality whilst Laurens De Bock didn’t attempt a single cross all game. In the said system, wingbacks really need to be bursting ahead of play out wide and then getting to the byline before delivering. Sunderland did not make that happen.

Sunderland’s midfielders also struggled to add any creative spark. Grant Leadbitter, the side’s most defensive midfielder, managed the most attempts at getting the ball to a teammate in the opposition’s penalty box and found 4 successful attempts out of 8. O’Nien and Dobson managed 5 between them, with only 1 positive outcome.

Are Sunderland’s strikers doing enough to get into good positions? Maybe not, but the service around them is also severely lacking.

Sunderland players’ passing stats vs. Gillingham (7/12/19)
InStat

The above stats show that Sunderland faltered offensively against Gillingham - something that has become a recurring issue over the past couple of months.

The main issue that the stats highlight is the need for several creative players to be brought in this January. A pacey winger or winback who is capable of consistently crossing the ball with accuracy would be a good start, so too would an adventurous central midfielder who constantly looks to open a defence with his passing.

In the short term, however, if Parkinson is to stick with a 3-5-2 approach, he would probably be better off using the pace of Denver Hume on one flank alongside O’Nien or McLaughlin on the other.

In midfield, one of the central three must be tasked with pushing higher up the pitch and trying to find players in attacking positions.

Up front, one of the two forwards must sit deeper and try to play his counterpart in on goal with clever movement and an innate desire to work quality balls into the opposition’s box.

Whatever formation Parkinson chooses, though, he has to find a shape and approach that enables his players to be more attacking in their intent.