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Talking Tactics: Sunderland’s blunt tip of the spear exposed by Fleetwood

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On Tuesday night Joey Barton’s side sh*thoused, defended and time-wasted their way to a well-fought draw, but Sunderland were their worst enemy on the night too.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Just about every fan knew what to expect on Tuesday evening from Joey Barton’s Fleetwood team. The former mag circumvented his ban by lodging an appeal, knowing just how important the match was, hoping that his sheer presence would rile the SoL - to then proceed to instruct his players to fly out the traps and waste time, cheat, dive and fly into tackles while he headed every ball in tandem.

The “Cod Army” matched up Phil Parkinson’s favoured 3-4-3, as both sides respectively kept the same entire 18 for the second match in succession.

The two sides’ average positions on Tuesday
Instat Football

Fleetwood Cutting the Supply Line

To Barton’s credit, he has created a very solid team who are well-disciplined defensively, extremely difficult to break down and defend from the front.

Last month, Russell Martin instructed his MK Dons side to cut the passing lanes of our central defenders and patrol the channels between these players and our midfield pairing, in ordered to cut our supply lines from the base of the attack. For the most part we struggled to overcome this tactic, with the Dons’ attacking midfield pairing successfully marking Dobson and Power out of the game.

We came out of that game relatively unscathed thanks to Lynden Gooch’s late screamer, but Barton took note. His three most advanced midfielders, Billy McKay, Wes Burns and Callum Connolly all patrolled these passing lanes in front of Ozturk and to the left of Tom Flanagan. Time after time the former two, alongside Paddy Madden, would neglect to press our central defender on the ball but instead cut out his options, particularly towards Power and Dobson again.

These three attempted a combined 64 challenges during the course of the game, completing 27 of them (42%). Burns in particular both attempted and completed more challenges than any other player on the pitch - quite the feat considering 6”6 central defender Harry Souttar bossed Charlie Wyke in the air.

The front four in general picked up nine loose balls and six interceptions on our own half, while only actually tackling any of our back three once combined. Rather than run to the man, they marked the space and stifled our central supply lines for the majority of the game - especially early doors.

Connolly & Madden’s Challenge Maps
Instat Football
Burns & McKay’s Challenge Maps
Instat Football

Captain’s Performance

Since Max Power was given the captain’s armband full-time in the 2-1 away victory over Doncaster, the Lads have lost just once in 13 games. During this period, he has been arguably one of the most consistent performers in his new role as water-carrier.

Aimed to drive the Lads on from deep, his performances have been solid if not unspectacular at times, and crucial to unlocking the two ahead of him.

The first half on Tuesday evening panned out much the same, with Power largely struggling for the opening 15 minutes. However, as the home side’s tempo rose as a whole, Power began to exert his influence and dictate proceedings - if at times too conservatively. Fleetwood’s tempo slowed as the game wore on, their fatigue levels rose and as a result they retreated deeper and deeper as a whole towards their own goal.

Max Power’s Stats Card v Fleetwood
Instat Football

In the second-half, Power came out like man posessed. He has no time for the attempts of Fleetwood’s fitness coach to waste time and take the piss, defiantly but humorously throwing a bag of balls and cones the coach conveniently “left” in the middle of the pitch towards the dugout.

Parky made the risky decision to replace Dobson with Kyle Lafferty after 75 minutes, going all out attack as the away side retreated further and further back into their own half.

Though this helped, the Sunderland manager was able to do this by his faith in his captain to step up. Maguire and Semenyo were tasked with dropping deep to aid him, but in truth both looked a little understandably lost in the role. It ain’t their game.

Power, however, stepped up to the plate with aplomb and played brilliantly for the last 20 minutes of the match. He covered the ground of two midfielders and absolutely bossed their midfield three the whole time, before picking up a crucial captain’s goal right at the end. This tactical shift was brave, enabled by Parky’s faith in his captain, and was rewarded in the end.

As detailed in full in the graphic above, here’s just a TL;DR for stats Power topped Sunderland’s players for (top three metrics):

  • Shots on & off goal, xG.
  • Ground, aerial, defensive and attacking challenges won & attempted.
  • Interceptions and loose balls recovered.
  • Total actions, passes, attacking passes, short, medium & long passes.
  • Passes into the final third, forward passes & diagonals.
Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Blunt Instrument

Despite Fleetwood’s staunch defence, our biggest downfall in attack was ourselves. Wyke, Gooch and Denver Hume all have pretty unproductive performances, resulting in our whole left-hand side creating very little throughout - which has so often in 2020 been the most potent attacking force in the league this season.

Here I’ll focus on Charlie Wyke’s contribution.

Despite once again working extremely hard in occupying defenders and creating space for his teammates, now it must be time for Phil Parkinson to give Kyle Lafferty to stake a place in the team as we hit the business end of the season. Far too many attacks break down upon Wyke’s involvement, and as a result the tip of our attacking spear is not just blunt, but entirely ineffective at times.

The ex-Bradford man received the lowest Instat Index (statistical algorithm rating) on Tuesday evening at just 192. These algorithms are weighted depending upon not just involvement, success rate and effectiveness, but also position. For example, Jordan Willis received a rating of just 200, but he actually had very little to do from a defensive standpoint. As a result, his rating is low because the algorithm favours entirely defensive actions due to his position as a centre back (on paper). In reality he had a cracking game, galloping down the right-wing all night and was a vital cog in our overload on the right-hand side with Maguire and O’Nien.

As a striker, however, Wyke must be judged on goals, either scoring or creating them. He did neither. In fact, he lost the ball on more occasions (11) than he did have touches in the second half (8) or completed passes for the entirety of the game (9). In the latter 45 he had eight touches of the ball, completed four passes and won four challenges. In 90 minutes. By way of comparison, Kyle Lafferty had 19 touches, completed 10 actions, five passes and four challenges while losing the ball just twice in just 20 minutes.

Charlie Wyke’s Stats Card
Instat Football

Wyke had an xG ratio of precisely zero. He didn’t have a single shot on goal all game (he did miss an absolute sitter from 4 yards out but this was adjudged to have been offside, so didn’t count in the stats), had one touch in the penalty area and completed one pass in the entirety of the final third.

In short, his attacking output was negligible against a side battling for promotion once again. He may boss and bully those near the relegation zone, but whenever he faces a defender who can actually defend he usually doesn’t have a look-in whatsoever.

Our style of football is built to suit him, yet he still struggles and rarely looks like scoring. Just look at how often we whip great balls in either from the corner flag, early from the edge of the box or cut-back from the by-line and Wyke is either on his arse, well-behind his man or just miles out of position entirely.