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Talking Tactics: What does the data tell us about where Sunderland went wrong on Tuesday?

In a disappointing result & performance, Sunderland failed to defeat relegation-threatened Shrewsbury - here’s what the data tells us.

Danny Roberts | Roker Report

Lee Johnson lined the lads up in a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation, which changed numerous times throughout the match. Initially, Nathan Broadhead started up on the left, with Alex Pritchard as a 10 behind Ross Stewart and Aidan O’Brien on the right.

However, as the game wore on, Pritchard moved to the left and Broadhead joined Stewart in attack. Pritchard replaced Elliot Embleton in the side, and Aiden O’Brien came in for Corry Evans, with Carl Winchester moving into midfield and Lynden Gooch to right back.

Too Many Crosses

In the first half, Sunderland predominantly attacked down the left-hand side, with Pritchard in particular impressing. Aside from his excellent goal, his link-up play with Luke O’Nien and Stewart was the main route of progression towards the host’s goal:

However, this did not result in a single shot on target in the entire opening 45 minutes despite largely dominating territory and possession metrics:

For the most part, we attempted to play the ball quickly on the deck and look for openings - but Ross Stewart had an uncharacteristically poor match - completing just 15 passes and having zero shots on target. He did battle well, winning 71% of aerial duels and 57% of ground duels - but nothing came off well, losing possession 20 times during the game.

In the second half, we shifted to play wider in an attempt to stretch the game with the hosts down to 10-men, as we should. However, we also changed the style of play, attempting far too many aimless crosses into the box:

Attempted crosses more than doubles, despite a significantly lower success rate. To be fair to Stewart (and Broadhead), they were both largely feeding off scraps as they were given zero service.

xG was still relatively positive, and at 1.87 is higher than in many recent games during our bad run - but too many players were again making too many easy mistakes & not taking risks. Passing percentage stats were high, but we barely penetrated the box or got in behind Shrewsbury’s defence. It was a real quantity over quality performance.

I would like to hold some praise for Dan Neil, he bossed the game from midfield again, and we dictated quite well with a pivot of himself and Winchester - they only gave the ball away 8 times from a combined 119 passes attempted.

It’s the best we’ve looked in midfield for some time until Corry Evans came on and the side immediately dropped 10 yards looking to hold on to a 1-0 lead, away to Shrewsbury, who are in the bottom four, and down to ten men. Awful.

Poor Game Management

This isn’t necessarily tactical, and thus may not be relevant here - but the lack of game management and general naivety on show was atrocious. We allowed the hosts back into the game and didn’t kill them off through a cavalcade of missed chances, poor pressing and general naivety in battles.

The goals were both different microcosms of the performance: we only took the lead thanks to individual quality and then lost it again by having too many players not taking responsibility and allowing Udoh to win a battle, take a touch and score from inside our own penalty area without anyone getting close to him.

No Progression From Defence

For another game now, there was hardly any progression from the defence. We barely saw the defenders split to receive the ball and play it short through the lines or push out. More often than not, the favoured option was to bypass the defence and go long or out wide, as shown below:

Obviously, it is impossible to know for sure the reasoning behind this: was it intentional, or forced by Shrewsbury’s effective press? Regardless, our counter-press is almost as non-existent now as our pressing system itself.

Perhaps we were stifled, but this is a longer-term pattern as outlined in Brandon’s excellent article last week.

In an attempt to stem the defensive mistakes and issues in giving the ball away in dangerous areas in our own half, it seems Johnson has gone “back-to-basics”. However, this is stifling the side more so than fixing any problems - we have just become far too easy to play against, far too predictable and thus are creating barely anything of note.

Overall, looking at our average positions & passing visualisation before, there is not enough balance to the side and too many gaps occurring all over the pitch. Johnson’s recent tactical and personnel tweaks have largely exacerbated this rather than solving other issues (inability to stop a cross, dictate the pace of a game or win individual battles).


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