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Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet League One

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Talking Tactics: Why Sunderland were deserved winners against a fast-starting Wigan

The data tells us that Sunderland deserved their win over Wigan on Saturday, but what else can we glean from the statistics? Brandon Feeley goes in-depth in the first Talking Tactics of the 2020-21 season...

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


Both teams lined up 4-2-3-1. As Sunderland are short at full-back, Dan Neil and Carl Winchester stepped up at left and right back, Lee Burge has initially been given the starting position in goal ahead of Anthony Patterson, but I’m sure he will get plenty of chances this season.

Wigan mirrored the 4-2-3-1, with Charlie Wyke and Max Power returning hoping to spoil the party. Former Loanee Jordan Jones made the bench for Wigan.


I think the xG is a fair reflection of the match and the analysis that I will talk about. We will refer back to a few times in the analysis, as it shows the trends of this football match.

Heat Maps

I have broken down the game into six sections, consisting of 15 minutes intervals. Starting with Wigan...

It was a very aggressive, attacking start from the visitors. Wigan were marginally sharper in the first 15 minutes of the match; there is an element of luck that the ball fell straight to Edwards after hitting the post, but you make your own luck in football.

Now the xG and Heat maps almost correlate perfectly here. Wigan, after recording serious activity in the attacking third early on, flip back towards their own third for the majority of the match. The xG shows that Wigan went quiet after scoring and the heat maps show how deep Wigan were as a team.

Switching to Sunderland...

We didn’t start badly but Wigan just had a minor edge and managed to score. Sunderland had large control of the game. Between Minutes 16-30,31-45 and 46-60 and did a fantastic job in managing the match.

Scoring twice and sitting around 10 yards higher up the pitch than we did in the first 15 minutes. What we did was suppress Wigan, allowing them zero shots and breaking the game up so they couldn’t find a rhythm.

The possession stats are highlighted here to show you don’t always need the football to control a match. Wigan gradually had more of the ball but failed to do much with it. Last season Sunderland ranked 2nd, behind MK Dons for most possession per game (55%). Hull last season averaged 49% and won the league. It’s what you do with the ball that counts and Wigan were wasteful with it.


I thought several players were excellent but I will highlight a couple below, more of these visuals are available at the end of the article.

Callum Doyle

What a player this kid will be - 17 years old and he looked like a seasoned pro. He recorded 80% passing accuracy, the highest of any outfield player. For direct comparison, defensive partner Tom Flanagan registered 67%. What a debut and I hope it continues.

Luke O’Nien

Another excellent performer was Luke O’Nien. Something felt right watching him and Evans together in the middle. Achieving 76% passing accuracy, O’Nien was everywhere in the midfield. Sunderland typically have lacked energetic midfielders and I liked O’Nien as a box-to-box midfielder.

Average Player Locations

We have a very telling bit of information on the left-hand pitch, labelled 1 - 73 minutes. The lines between players indicate when more than 3 passes occur between two players. Notice how our central players don’t have any between themselves? O’Nien and Evans didn’t pass- the ball to each more than 3 times before our first sub in the 73rd minute, and the same applies to Doyle and Flanagan!

In fact, the four of them combined largely passed out wide. Sunderland deliberately didn’t pass between the central players. All their passes are concentrated on wide players.

We will bookmark this for MK Dons next Saturday and see if the trend continues.


There is nothing of major interest for Sunderland here, other than we have done a great job in front of goal. Gooch was unlucky not to add a third by hitting the bar. Wigan as discussed previously had a quiet spell and this again reflects in the shots.


Saturday was a good performance, enough to win the match. I felt like Wigan were largely disappointing and the data reflects it. Sunderland took their chances and were unlucky not to add a third through Gooch.

Here is a gallery of further visuals from the match.


How will Jewison Bennette’s World Cup experience impact his Sunderland form?


On This Day (29 Nov 2008): An end of an era as defeat spells the end for Keano at Sunderland!


The gap between games has felt interminably long, so roll on Sunderland vs Millwall!

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