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Where does last season’s Player of the Year Aiden McGeady fit into Sunderland’s 3-4-2-1 system?

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Where does Aiden McGeady fit into Sunderland’s new-look 3-4-2-1 formation? Tactics man Phil Butler looks at how we can expect Jack Ross to tinker with his system in order to fit his best outfield player into his side.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Option ‘A’ - Instead of Elliot Embleton

Perhaps the most obvious role for Aiden McGeady in the 3-4-2-1 formation is the half-winger/half-number ten position played mainly by youngster Elliot Embleton in pre-season.

This role is probably the most similar to the one which McGeady played last year in Sunderland’s 4-2-3-1. Cutting in from the wing, offering a goalscoring option from range and providing the space for an overlapping full back to get to the byline.

In truth this does seem the perfect position for McGeady to flourish, the use of three at the back could give the Irish international the chance to add even more to his attacking output since he would not have to track back - something which it should be noted he was happy to do last year.

However, whilst McGeady may be perfectly suited for Embleton’s role, if pre-season is anything to go by then it’s likely that Jack Ross has no intention of dropping the England youth international in order to bring last season’s player of the year into the side.

So, there must be a way of playing both players in the two number ten positions.

Elliot Embleton has impressed in preseason, but his role is the most obvious for McGeady to take
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Option ‘B’ - Alongside Elliot Embleton

With Elliot Embleton seemingly promised plenty of first team football upon signing his new contract, and Aiden McGeady’s contract extension hinting at the same for him, if Jack Ross is to stick to his 3-4-2-1 during the league season then he must find a way of playing both McGeady and Embleton in behind the lone striker.

In pre-season, Jack Ross has use one playmaker - Embleton - and one ‘runner’ - Watmore or Kimpioka - in the two attacking midfield positions. However, since Embleton and McGeady are both playmakers, and neither have the pace of Watmore to run in behind and stretch opposition defences, then the man who Ross choses to play the lone striker role must be able to offer the energy given by Watmore and Kimpioka.

Well then - thank god we have a striker who Coventry fan George described as both ‘a hard worker’ and ‘a team player’, whilst McNulty’s ‘stocky nature’ will allow him to go toe to toe with the more physical defenders in League One.

He’s also the only Sunderland striker to have shown any glimpse of form in pre-season, as he bagged a hat trick in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Hartlepool at the Academy of Light, incidentally starting the game just in front of McGeady and another playmaker in the shape of Chris Maguire.

Of course Sunderland would miss out on Watmore’s raw pace with this set up, but for the moment, it makes sense to at least start the season with Sunderland’s two most creative players providing the ammunition for their newest striker.

Sunderland v Heerenveen Pre-Season Friendly
Without Watmore’s energy and pressing, Marc McNulty could be the key to getting McGeady and Embleton in the side
Photo by Iam Burn/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images