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Talking Tactics 20/21

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Talking Tactics: The data shows why Sunderland were deserved winners v Accrington

We look at what the data tells us about Sunderland’s win over Accrington - and why, on the balance of play, the Lads were deserved winners in the end.

Danny Roberts | Roker Report


Once again, Sunderland lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ron-Thorben Hoffmann making his debut in goal, replacing Anthony Patterson. Also, Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch switched positions on the wings for this match.


There are some interesting numbers coming out of this game on Shots/xG.

Sunderland recorded their highest xG of the season so far, and the highest Non Penalty xG in the division on Saturday. I did have a concern before this game as our xG had trended the wrong way until this match, as shown below.

Since the first day, Sunderland’s xG has gone down until beating Stanley yesterday.

Passing Locations

The data on passing locations may have given us an idea of how Sunderland plan to play with new signing Thorben Hoffmann in goal.

We can see 5 + passes were made between Doyle and Hoffmann, suggesting that we might see Doyle drop deeper and collect the ball from the back in future games. I have no idea how good Hoffmann will be in terms of passing, but I do like his commanding presence in the penalty box compared to our other goalkeeping options.

Another interesting point on this is how deep Gooch is on the left wing compared to usual, and Elliot Embleton’s position has him sat almost like a second centre forward.

You may have noted on the xG map that Embleton recorded the highest xG and xA. Loaning Elliot Embleton out to Blackpool has evidently changed the course of his career, and I really hope he stays fit for the rest of this season due to how important he’s become.

The Hoff Tracker

The gallery here shows how Sunderland’s three goalkeepers compare passing-wise.

My measurements here indicate the importance of longer distribution as a keeper, so I will keep an eye on these numbers as the season goes on. Burge recorded better numbers than Patterson, and so far, his numbers are better than Hoffmann’s.

That said, Hoffmann attempted more passes (excluding set pieces) than any other Sunderland player on Saturday.

What about Accrington Stanley?

I thought Accrington played excellently on Saturday, and I have no doubt that they’ll do well this season. Manager John Coleman alleged in his post-match interview that Stanley dominated the last 30 minutes after we started the second half strongly - so, of course, I decided to look into this to see how true his assessment actually was.

The data on possession and PPDA backs up his observation of the match, with Sunderland seeing less of the ball towards the end of the second half.

Accrington Stanley produced great pressing numbers v Sunderland

But, as Sunderland fans know well, possession doesn’t count for anything unless you create the chances to score, which Stanley failed to do. If you break down our xG, Sunderland created more than Stanley across BOTH halves of the match.

Sunderland also recorded a higher xG per shot count, creating 0.12 xG per shot. Stanley had 0.06 xG per shot.

Overall, Sunderland created better chances with less of the ball.

I don’t disagree with Coleman on Stanley dominating in the last half an hour, but the game is played over 90 minutes, and the data shows Sunderland were the better side.


I feel really good about Sunderland right now. Sunderland are doing some different things compared to last season, which I touched on last week.

Last season, Sunderland were on average 2nd for possession (55.5% per game) of all teams in League One, but this season, Sunderland are 14th (50.4% per game). We are allowing teams to have more of the ball, and like with Accrington Stanley, we’re allowing them to try and break us down.

It’s like a reversal of what Sunderland are used to when teams come and defend for 90 minutes at the Stadium of Light.


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