Sunderland’s summer will again consist of a major rebuild. As of right now, the club currently have 16 senior players on their books - 15 if you discount Aiden McGeady who is likely set to find pastures new this summer.
With no recruitment team currently in place, Phil Parkinson and Sunderland’s hierarchy have a real task on their hands as they look to find the players capable of helping Sunderland challenge for promotion in what will be the side’s third season in League One.
However, as Sunderland begin their preparations for another season in the third tier of English football, might Phil Parkinson consider a change in tactical approach in order to get the best out of the players currently at the club’s disposal?
Last season under Phil Parkinson, Sunderland were in dire need of cohesion at the back. In order to secure Sunderland’s struggling defence, Parkinson adopted a 3-4-3 system that could be adapted into a 5-2-3 when needed. Three central defenders provided a solid presence at the heart of Sunderland’s defence while Luke O’Nien and Denver Hume contributed up and down the flanks, both offensively and defensively.
Sunderland, though, often lacked creativity in the final third. If neither Lynden Gooch nor Chris Maguire were on song, the Lads looked bereft of ideas, which in turn made life increasingly difficult for Charlie Wyke - Parkinson’s preferred striker.
With an EFL mandated salary cap lingering on the horizon, Sunderland will have to be creative in their approach to recruitment, and might well give several squad players another chance to prove their worth.
One change Phil Parkinson might well consider in order to offer more creativity to the side is by switching Sunderland’s approach to a 4-2-3-1.
With only Jordan Willis and Tom Flanagan to pick from at the heart of Sunderland’s defence, Sunderland need additions regardless of the formation in which they set up to play. Bailey Wright is said to be close to agreeing terms, but Sunderland could do with another option at the heart of the defence. The same can be said for Sunderland’s options as full back, with only O’Nien, McLaughlin, and Hume to pick from.
Phil Parkinson’s sides are known for being organised and solid at the back. If the Sunderland manager can effectively switch to a back four, and add suitable additions to ensure Sunderland have the athleticism required to effectively defend with a back four, the argument could be made that this switch would allow more creativity to be added to Sunderland’s attack.
Max Power, Grant Leadbitter, Josh Scowen, and George Dobson are likely adequate cover for the central midfield positions in a 4-2-3-1 formation. That central pairing would be tasked with simultaneously shielding the back four whilst also distributing the ball effectively as they support the team’s more attacking players.
If Sunderland sacrificed a central defender by switching to a back four, though, Phil Parkinson would be able to commit another player into a more attacking role.
Last season, Sunderland desperately needed someone capable of linking the team’s attacking play in the opposition’s final third. Chris Maguire is the obvious choice to play in a number ten role, but was often utilised out wide where he was arguably the side’s best player, chipping in with 10 goals and 9 assists in 35 league games.
Alongside Maguire, Sunderland have other players capable of providing backup in behind the striker. Elliot Embleton and Luke O’Nien are two obvious candidates, but Josh Scowen has also expressed a desire to be given a more creative role.
Whoever plays in behind Sunderland’s main attacking threat, the player will need to be able to offer another option in the final third either with their movement, finishing, and vision. Too often last season, Sunderland moved the ball wide only to have their attacking impetus nullified by the opposition’s compact defence. Subsequently, without moments of magic from Gooch or Maguire, Sunderland often looked stale.
A creative outlet occupying the space between the midfield two and the lone striker would, however, give Sunderland more options when on the ball and when trying to break down the opposition’s defence.
Additionally, moving Chris Maguire into a central position would enable Parkinson to be coy with his recruitment approach as he could focus on bringing something the squad have sorely lacked in recent years: pace.
Lynden Gooch does a good job of stretching opposition sides with his direct nature, but Sunderland need at the very least another pacey winger to allow Sunderland to stretch sides or hit them on the counter.
Up front, Sunderland might be able to bring in an up-and-coming talent, or perhaps a loan signing capable of offering something different to Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke, who truthfully have struggled for form on Wearside.
If Sunderland are able to successfully play with a back four and effectively utilise a number ten, then a handful of astute signings might well help Sunderland to add the offensive depth to their play that has been missing for some time.