Defensive Shape to Numb Marquis
Whilst Sunderland’s increased intensity was generally shown by the initial high pressing started at the front by Marc McNulty, once the visitors played through or over this initial pressure Jack Ross’s side Sunderland’s defensive shape was vital in ensuring that John Marquis was kept quiet.
Sunderland sat in a 4-4-1-1 formation when forced back into their own half, and Portsmouth’s decision to operate in a 4-1-2-3 shape themselves - without a number ten - means that Power and Leadbitter could deal with the midfield runners Ben Close and Andy Cannon, whilst Willis and Ozturk were able to work together to pocket John Marquis.
It is no surprise that Sunderland’s tactic to line up their midfield to match up with the visitors and leave one centre-half free led to a much improved defensive performance - spoiled only by Conor McLaughlin’s missed interception and a deflection off Max Power - in which Jon McLaughlin’ best save was from Grant Leadbitter’s defensive header.
Emphasis on Verticality
Sunderland’s play on the ball in the opening two games of the league season lacked a cutting edge, but on Saturday lunchtime Jack Ross’s side were willing to sacrifice some possession in order to try and create more chances when they did have the ball though putting an added emphasis on passing the ball vertically.
The 42% possession which Sunderland achieved against Kenny Jackett’s side was the first time they have had less of the ball than the opposition, but with 5 shots and 2 on target Sunderland converted this possession into good chances rather than pot shots or broken down passing moves.
In fact the winning goal was a direct cause of this approach, with Ozturk’s long ball to McNulty down the left channel started the move which ended with Chris Maguire tapping in at the back post.
Whilst a striker of McNulty’s stature may seem unsuitable to lead the line in this direct approach, his willingness to make these type of runs into the channel away from central defenders means that long balls can often find him unmarked, and having left the room for Sunderland’s attacking midfield trio to make runs beyond him.
Chris Maguire’s free role
With George Honeyman leaving the club just a few days before the season started, Chris Maguire - who played mainly out wide last season - has found himself as Sunderland’s first choice for the number ten position.
There were a few glimpses on Saturday as to why this position could be perfect for the former Oxford talisman. Of course the goal showed why his ability to play up front make his perfectly suited to playing behind a striker like McNulty who drifts wide and leaves space for the number ten to run into, but the freedom granted by the number ten position is perhaps the most important aspect of the role which makes it suitable for Maguire.
As is the case with any player who has played the majority of his career at this level, Maguire is inconsistent, both within games and throughout the season. The freedom of the number ten position allows for this inconsistency whilst allowing for the Scotsman to stay on the pitch to provide a key pass, goal or assist which could be the difference between a (one-all) draw or three points.