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Talking Tactics: What does the data tell us about Sunderland’s opponents, Crewe Alexandra?

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Crewe have quietly impressed since coming into League One this season - so what can we expect from them? Brandon Feeley looks at what the footage and data tells us...

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Examining Crewe so far

Crewe generally line up with a 4-3-3. What is interesting about them is the number of young and home-grown players they actually use.

Crewe sold two homegrown talents in the recent transfer window - Perry Ng and Harry Pickering, with the latter returning on loan for the rest of the season.

Their squad’s age on average is 24.3 years old - Sunderland’s is 26.8 years old.

Home records by Points per game and xG per game

Crewe are averaging 1.5 xG per home game, which is just above average. However, The Alex also have the 4th best home record (Points per game) and are unbeaten since November. Only Doncaster, Blackpool and Peterborough have averaged more points at home this season.

Crewe Alexandra home record 20/21

Crewe have a trend of beating the lower placed teams (on away record), as shown above. They are still yet to play Portsmouth, Sunderland, Hull and Doncaster, who all have a top six away record.

Crewe have a brilliant home record, but this may be inflated by who they have played so far.

Most of the season Crewe have played in a 4-3-3 system, however in their last game against Accrington Stanley they lined up in a more traditional 4-4-2 formation. It brings the question of whether Crewe will line up tomorrow with two forwards rather than one - personally, I thought they looked great with two forwards last time out, so it’s likely that they may stick with the same system that got them all three points on Tuesday night.


What does the footage tell us?

I watched the extended highlights of Crewe’s last three games - a 2-0 loss at Peterborough, a 2-1 loss at Swindon and a 2-0 win over play-off hopefuls Accrington Stanley - to gain an understanding of what we can expect from David Artell’s side.


Weaknesses

In all three games, Crewe lined up with a different right back. Former Sunderland defender Billy Jones played against Peterborough, Travis Johnson started at Swindon, and then Donervon Daniels played against Accrington Stanley.

Since Perry Ng left in January, it appears Crewe haven’t filled the void successfully.

Peterborough v Crewe

Crewe are defensively all over the place in the still image above.

The orange arrow points towards Billy Jones, who has hidden behind the Peterborough player. He is the right-back. The two players highlighted for Crewe are the centre backs.

That makes them easy pickings for Peterborough’s midfield and attack, due to the incredibly poor defensive shape of Crewe.

Birds-eye view of Crewe’s defending v Peterborough
Peterbough get in behind

As a consequence of poor defensive positioning, Peterborough exposes Crewe with a simple through ball. I highlighted Billy Jones as he’s out of position, and that allows Peterborough’s wide player to square the ball to Clarke-Harris, who scores.

The same thing happened for the other Peterborough goal, showing that there’s a trend, and that Sunderland should perhaps target that side of the pitch, given other clubs have had so much joy when attacking the left-hand side of the pitch.


Attacking threat

A familiar name returns against Sunderland tomorrow, with French striker Mikael Mandron likely to start up top for Crewe.

He is the Crewe forward in the below image where the arrow starts. In all three games I watched, Mandron’s movement was brilliant, and he was a constant threat.

Whilst his finishing was fairly inadequate, his movement creates chances for others, and he has to be considered a potential problem.

Crewe attacking Swindon
The outcome of Mandron’s movement

Mandron, who started on the wrong side of the Swindon defender, makes a great run and ends up between the central defender and left-back.

The Crewe midfielder (highlighted in the above image) recognises this, and plays a cross into the red zone. Luckily for Swindon, Mandron’s finishing was poor, so the chance was wasted. Despite his poor ability in front of goal, he’s that busy and has great movement, so he’s still good enough to create enough chances to nab a goal or two in each game.


Key Player - Charlie Kirk

Charlie Kirk’s statistics over the previous three seasons (including this one) are shown below - his number for the 19/20 season are amazing considering the season was cut short.

In this below image, Kirk runs the ball into the red marked space.

Kirk v Accrington Stanley

Although Crewe were playing against ten men on Tuesday night against Accrington Stanley, Kirk had a brilliant game. His decision-making on the ball was very impressive.

Kirk then advanced the ball 30 yards up the pitch until the correct moment to release the ball occurs, choosing to pass when the four Accrington players begin to apply pressure.

When Kirk has Porter and Mandron available as passing options, Kirk hands the ball to the number nine, Porter - but, unfortunately for Crewe, Porter has a shot saved, and Mandron hits the post with the follow-up.

The 23-year old is a brilliant young player - he’s smart and, importantly, isn’t selfish, preferring to cut inside from the left-wing in order to create chances.

If Sunderland are in the market for a winger this summer I would like to hope that they’d consider signing Kirk, as his ability shows that he’s set to play on a higher stage at some point soon.

Kirk v Accrington Stanley

Crewe are a tidy team, and they like to keep the ball down and pass it. The graphic below shows us that they like to push high up the pitch, and that they play predominantly through their full-backs.

As previously explained, Kirk on the left-wing prefers to drift inside, which allows room for the full back to exploit. This is the case for both wingers, as the defenders don’t usually cross into the box, but instead prefer to pass inside.

Sunderland have to be cautious, as our defending at full back - particularly on the left hand side - has been an issue at times this season, particularly since Denver Hume got injured.

That said, the fact Crewe can’t settle on a right back should work in our favour when you consider that our best player at the moment is our left-winger, Aiden McGeady, and he’ll relish the opportunity to expose Crewe’s biggest weakness.

Crewe’s completed passes by defenders v Accrington Stanley