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Talking Tactics: How Peterborough systematically dismantled Sunderland’s shoddy game plan

Saturday’s result and performance showed that Sunderland still suffer from the same issues as they did last season - namely with their inability to deal with quick teams that overload you in the middle of the park.

Danny Roberts

Sunderland outnumbered in midfield

A simple look at the formations of the two sides written down showed that Sunderland were sacrificing numbers in midfield by chosing to play a flat four man midfield up against Peterborough’s diamond.

Whilst most teams will be outnumbered when coming up against the 4-1-2-1-2 formation, Jack Ross’ decision to play an out-and-out 4-4-2 meant that Leadbitter and Power were left more exposed than necessary.

Peterborough also played with quite a high defensive line, especially when they had the ball in Sunderland’s half. This not only made it difficult for Sunderland to counter since Charlie Wyke’s flick ons were taking place far from the home side’s goal, but also helped to compress the midfield meaning that the duo of Leadbitter and Power became overwhelmed by Peterborough’s midfield runners.

Whilst it is not always necessary to match up the opposing teams formation, when giving up number in midfield, Sunderland learned the hard way that those in the middle must have the legs to make up for this. Leadbitter and Power simply do not.

Peterborough’s diamond midfield, with Maddison in the free role behind the strikers

Hume was missed - we must sign a left back

Part of the trade off teams like Peterborough who play a diamond midfield pay for getting more players in the middle of the pitch is to give up space in wide areas, but Denver Hume’s absence contributed to Sunderland’s inability to make the most of this weakness.

The way Sunderland play with inverted wingers means that having attacking full backs who can overlap and get crosses into the box is an important part of their game plan, and the importance of having this type of full back is heightened when the opposition is, as Peterborough did on Saturday, leaving space to exploit in wide areas.

Not only did Hume’s absence damage Sunderland’s ability going forward, but it also made Peterborough more dangerous going forward. This is because, when Sunderland did get their full backs forward the home side dropped into a flat 4-4-2 shape - with Maddison moving from the central role to track back from the right side of midfield. However, since these wide attacks by Sunderland were few and far between Maddison spent most of his time in the free role behind the strikers and his two goals showed how dangerous he is when allowed this freedom.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Struggles against pace... again

Like last season, Sunderland again looked all at sea against an opposing side’s quick forwards. Mo Eisa and Ivan Toney started up front together for the posh, and with Maddison in the number ten role behind them, they both drifted wide to run at, or in behind, Sunderland’s back four.

Perhaps what is most worrying is that Sunderland’s struggles against pace are so familiar, with the crazy game against Coventry at the Stadium of Light coming to mind straight away. Like that afternoon in the spring, Sunderland struggled against a team full of runners who overwhelmed them with their direct attacking play and quick forwards.

One defeat after a run of five wins is by on means the end of the world, but Jack Ross will be hoping to return to winning ways as soon as possible.

Sunderland struggled to cope with the pace of Peterborough strikers Mo Eisa and Ivan Toney
Photo by John Cripps/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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