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Talking Tactics: 4-4-2 gets the best from our centre backs, but questions over midfield remain

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“Whilst 4-4-2 by nature leaves the defence more open, I am still unconvinced that a duo of Power and Leadbitter has enough energy to fill in the gaps which appear when Sunderland lose possession” writes Phil Butler.

Danny Roberts

Direct build-up play brought the best out of Wyke

A main feature of Sunderland’s play in their recent run of three-wins on the bounce has been to get the ball forward to the strikers and attacking midfielders quickly - whether this be long balls straight from the defenders, or from defensive midfielders dropping deep.

At the moment this tactic is working to ensure that Sunderland don’t spend large swathes of the match struggling to break opposition defences down, or with the ball deep in their own half where a mistake in possession can lead to conceding a goal.

During the last few games, and indeed at Rochdale on Tuesday night, Sunderland tactic in possession can be split into two parts - the early buildup play which consists of getting the ball in the final third as quickly as possible - and, if this first phase results in Sunderland having possession, the latter possession phases which is much more pleasing on the eye.

A good example of Sunderland’s offensive tactic came in their opening goal, finished off by Aiden McGeady. Ozturk’s long ball was brought down by Wyke to Maguire who interchanges with Gooch and the overlapping O’Nien who cut back to McGeady in space at the back post who finished cooly past the Rochdale ‘keeper.

The goal started with a long “punt” up field, but ended with a series of short, fast passes around the opposition box, the perfect example of Sunderland’s attacking strategy.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Jordan Willis starting to shine, but questions over the midfield

With Sunderland’s switch to a version of 4-4-2, and a more open style of play, the pressure placed on their cente-backs and defensive midfielders has increased vastly. Thankfully, summer signing Jordan Willis has thrived on this added responsibility, and his best performances in Red and White have came in a four-man defence alongside Alim Ozturk.

Willis was again impressive at Spotlands, with his pace being the key to intercepting several Rochdale through balls, and his aerial presence ensuring that Ozturk wasn’t dragged out of position to deal with direct balls up from the home side.

Despite the impressive performances of Sunderland’s central defenders in the open 4-4-2 formation, the midfield remained a concern. Whilst 4-4-2 by nature leaves the defence more open, I am still unconvinced that a duo of Power and Leadbitter has enough energy to fill in the gaps which appear when Sunderland lose possession.

Furthermore, George Dobson seems like the perfect player to play in a two-man midfield since he played a deep-lying role for Walsall last season, and has played a box-to-box role in previous seasons.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images