Earlier this week I penned an article arguing that common sense and logic needs to reign supreme on Wearside this summer if the club are to find real success this coming campaign. The opening paragraph argued “that the glaringly obvious issues within our side are particularly easy to spot - even from the perspective of a fan in the stands.”
Interestingly, this week D3D4 football released analytics on Sunderland’s 2018/19 season - much that was highlighted within that report echoes the claims made by fans from the stands for what feels like an eternity.
Ultimately, Sunderland need commanding defenders and creative midfielders; however, further reading also raises interesting points worth discussing.
As highlighted in the D3D4 article, Sunderland perhaps lack a commanding presence in the heart of our defence - something fans have bemoaned throughout the season.
Whilst Baldwin looks considerably better than the rest of his defensive compatriots, his lack of concentration sometimes led to issues at the back. The same can be said for Tom Flanagan, but as the numbers show - he wasn’t the man to lead the Sunderland defence, either.
Ultimately, Sunderland’s lack of clean sheets cost the side a real chance of promotion. With 13 clean sheets to their name, Sunderland’s efforts paled in comparison to Barnsley, Charlton, and Luton with 21, 18, and 20 clean sheets respectively.
As such, Sunderland need to invest in a commanding central defender capable of leading the backline and at least two full backs to strengthen the squad. Clean sheets and a watertight defence will be a huge plus for Jack Ross’ men moving forward into next season, and must be a focus of our summer dealings.
It’s clear to see from the above graphics that Luke O’Nien is a very solid player defensively. He won’t want to remain a semi-converted right back for the 2019/20 season, but perhaps his skills could be better used in Sunderland’s midfield.
We have been crying out for an athletic, combative midfielder capable of covering ground and going box to box. Standing a shade under six feet tall, O’Nien’s talents for Wycombe were in a more advanced midfield role where he would often compete for second balls and look to move play into threatening positions, or go for goal.
He managed 8 goals and 4 assists for Wycombe in 2017/18, and clocked up a decent 4 goals and 6 assists as a utility player this past campaign.
Perhaps O’Nien could be better deployed in Sunderland’s midfield this coming campaign?
ANALYTICS— D3D4Football (@d3d4football) June 14, 2019
Here is a look at last season's shots to shots on target ratio in LEAGUE ONE #Barnsleyfc #DRFC and #LTFC led the way with Luton having the most impressive ratio.
Accrington and Burton also very decent ⚽️#Gills #asfc #BAFC
Take a peek pic.twitter.com/fulQzOxF4j
One major issue Sunderland’s midfield faced was its inability to create chances for their forwards. Josh Maja’s early season excellence papered over the cracks, but truthfully Sunderland struggled in terms of creating chances.
The above image shows just how poor Sunderland’s forward play was last season in terms of shots per 90 minutes (12) and shots on target per 90 minutes (just over 4.5) - a fair number of sides were superior to Sunderland in this regard.
Next season Sunderland will need to improve their build up play and add a far more clinical side to their game in terms of creating clear opportunities for our strikers - that is what clearly aided Barnsley and Luton in their quest for automatic promotion, and Sunderland must learn from their success.
Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke obviously struggled when faced with such an average amount of chances created for them. Could they have done better in terms of finishing? Definitely. But the more chances created, the higher the likelihood of scoring goals. Sunderland simply must improve their ability to create scoring opportunities.
Part of the issue is that Sunderland lack someone other than Aiden McGeady capable of creating genuine scoring chances within a game.
Duncan Watmore’s stats are somewhat skewed due to the limited games player; however, he showed in his 11 appearances that he can help create opportunities for those around him.
Truthfully, though, Sunderland lack a genuine creative outlet in the middle of the park. George Honeyman was tasked with playing as a number ten this season, but that isn’t his natural position. He did managed 6 goals and 3 assists, but his play is suited to a deeper position in Sunderland’s midfield. He was never going to be our answer to needing a creative outlet in the final third.
Marcus Maddison, for example, attempted over 2.4 through balls per game and attempted 5.5 passes into the opposition box per 90 minutes. Sunderland’s most creative player, Aiden McGeady, compared with 0.6 through balls and 4.6 passes into the areas.
Additionally, not one of Sunderland’s players made the top 30 in League One in terms of chances created per game (visual below). That in a nutshell tells you all you need to know about our creative issues.
One final issue worth noting is that Sunderland’s fullbacks also struggled to make a concerted difference in attack. Luton’s starting full backs were a pivotal part of their offence. James Justin, for example, created 8 goals this season as did Jack Stacey.
Sunderland’s full backs managed 19 between them. Oviedo and Matthews had 9 assists combined, yet struggled with fitness issues. Reece James managed 2 all season - the same as Denver Hume who played a mere 8 times - and Luke O’Nien managed 6 across a host of positions. Again, food for thought moving forward.
Ultimately, Sunderland have a lot of work to do this summer. Defensively we need a leader who can marshall and lead by example; we also need full backs capable of adding attacking impetus to our play.
In midfield, perhaps we need to give Luke O’Nien a concerted run in his favoured position, and acquire another imposing, athletic player capable of moving the ball into dangerous areas.
In the final third, we need creative players who can provide clear chances for our strikers who often struggled due to fitness issues last season.
Ultimately, there’s work to be done. Jack Ross and the ownership team (whoever that may be) have a lot of work to do.