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‘What Do The Stats Say?’ - How can Sunderland exploit Bristol Rovers’ weaknesses this weekend?

We take a look at what the data says about Sunderland and Bristol Rovers ahead of this weekend’s game. Where are our opponents’ biggest weaknesses, and how can the Lads look to exploit them?

Bristol Rovers v Coventry City - Sky Bet League One - Memorial Stadium Photo by Bradley Collyer/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

A different type of team

After a two successive victories against sides who look to have a large amount of possession, Sunderland will face a different type of test this weekend against mid-table Bristol Rovers.

Whereas in Sunderland’s previous two matches the opposition has looked to control the game with large amounts of possession, with Rochdale top of the possession table and Oxford fourth, The Gas are situated 18th in this table, averaging 48% possession over the course of the season. With this considered, Sunderland will likely have the lion’s share of possession on Saturday afternoon and its unlikely that Ben Garner’s side will adopt the kamikaze playing out from the back which saw Sunderland win comfortably against Rochdale.

A large reason why this weekend opponents are unlikely to give Sunderland goals on a plate is because of the different ways they look to score. These stats show a stark difference with how Bristol Rovers attack. Put simply, it appears that only Shrewsbury and Wycombe are more direct than the visitors who average only 2.4 passes in each goal-scoring attack, for comparison Sunderland average 4.8 passes, and Rochdale 7. There is little doubt that Sunderland are facing a very different test than in recent weeks.

How will the visitors threaten?

It is clear from the possession stats that Bristol Rovers will offer a more direct threat than Oxford and Rochdale, however further analysis is needed to see where it is likely this threat will come from.

Looking at the break down of the away side’s goals from open play, it appeared that Rovers will attack predominantly down the left flank since 50% of their goals have been the result of attacks down that wing, and left back Leahy has the 9th most crosses in the division - the highest amount in Bristol Rovers’ squad.

Unfortunately, unlike Oxford last weekend who looked to attack down Sunderland’s left - an area of Parkinson’s side’s defensive strength, Bristol Rovers’ bias towards their left flank attacks Sunderland’s slight weakness on the right. Although one more goal has been conceded to attacks through the centre of the pitch, Sunderland have conceded 6 out of their 16 open play goals (38%) to attacks which focus down their right flank.

This being said, Sunderland are also the best defensive side in the division, and the type of goal The Gas score does not focus on Sunderland’s slight weakness against counter-attacks. Rovers have scored only 15% of their goals from counter attacks - a surprising stat for a team which plays such a direct style of football.

Ozturk to be tested on his return

Unsurprisingly for a mid table side, Bristol Rovers have only one stand-out player, Jonson Clarke-Harris and he is the man who will look to make Alim Ozturk’s return to the starting line up as difficult as possible, and his stats show that a nuisance is exactly the type of striker which Clarke-Harris is.

Clarke-Harris has completed the seventh most attacking challenges in League One this season, for comparison Wyke is eleventh, and has completed the sixth most air-challenges as well. This, coupled with Rovers’ direct style of play shows exactly how Clarke-Harris will look to make Ozturk and the rest of Sunderland’s back three work as hard as possible to prevent him from scoring his eleventh goal of the season.

Weirdly enough, this type of test might actually be one where Ozturk is preferable to Bailey Wright as the central player in the back three due to his added height and aerial ability. Ozturk has a 65% success rate in air challenges, whereas Wright has just a 50% success rate - albeit from a smaller sample size. Furthermore, it is not only Ozturk who has showed a high degree of success in these aerial challenges this season, with Flanagan (66% success rate) and Willis (68% success rate) actually appearing better in the air than Ozturk based on these stats - although this will be skewed by Sunderland’s desire to have Ozturk challenging for aerial balls, even those he is unlikely to win.

All Stats from Instat Football. Accurate 11/02/2020

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