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Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light

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Talking Tactics: What does the data tell us about Sunderland’s performance against MK Dons?

Sunderland crumbled to another defeat, this time against playoff-hopeful MK Dons - Brandon Feeley explores the data to see if it can provide any insight into what’s going wrong...

Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Line Ups

Alex Neil opted to play in a 4-3-3 in his first home game as manager, repeating the formation used at Wimbledon last weekend. MK Dons lined up 3-4-3.

xG & Shots

Sunderland were beaten on xG against MK Dons by a considerable margin, just like in the reverse fixture in August. Creating just 0.75 xG is poor but that has been the standard for several weeks.

Sunderland however registered eight shots with only one on target, which is extremely concerning. The positive to take from it is we have a 100% success conversion rate from Shots on Target to Goals.

MK Dons likewise had a low amount of shots, registering six but five on target. The quality of the chances created was the difference in what can be said was a low-quality affair.

Passing Networks

This is very telling for Sunderland. The top 4 most common passes are between defenders, which shows a clear issue in the defenders having too much of the ball.

For me, this shows we play too many passes in the defence - this is either your defenders holding on to the ball for too long, or midfielders are not becoming available.

It’s a sign of low confidence.

MK Dons didn’t get up to much on the ball either but do have some strong play down their left-hand side.


Bailey Wright statistically did well when finding his teammates, but you can see an awful lot of sideways passes in his passing map.

Jay Matete caught my eye in the passing number - this is the first time I’ve had the chance to mention him since he signed from Fleetwood. I think he’s a great signing, who I’m sure will go on to play at Premier League level. He’s very intelligent and has got goals in him from central midfield - he’s played well so far in a struggling side.

Why are Sunderland so bad?

There is nothing that stands out in the data which I can predominately blame. As mentioned already, our xG is trending downwards and we’ve gone from creating 2.9 xG v Wycombe to not managing over 1 xG since we aren’t scoring as much.

My opinion is this. All season our defence has been bad.

We are not a good team defensively, and I’ve seen a lot of comments recently about the decision to sell Tom Flanagan and Denver Hume. Yes, selling them without replacing them is stupid, but we had the same issues when they played.

The attackers are the reason Sunderland were doing so well in the first place - our defence has been horrific all season. Here are some stats about goals home and away.

Goals Conceded

Overall - 1.39 Per Game (15th)

Home - 0.81 Per Game (2nd)

Away - 1.94 Per Game (Tied 21st)

Clean Sheets in League 1

Overall - 27% (12th)

Home - 44% (Tied 3rd)

Away - 12% (Tied 18th)

Now consider this - if we are keeping a clean sheet in 27% of games, that is near one in every four matches. So in three out of every four matches, we require at least two goals to win a match. This has been a season-long problem that Lee Johnson couldn’t fix, and Alex Neil probably won’t fix it until next season starts.

Our attacking stats are as follows:

Goals Scored in League 1

Overall - 1.73 per Game (5th)

Home - 2.06 per Game (2nd)

Away - 1.41 per Game (9th)

Failed to Score in League 1

Overall - 15% (3rd)

Home - 6% (Tied 2nd)

Away - 24% (18th)

Sunderland are a team that have never struggled to score goals, yet we have failed to score in five matches in League One. The attacking numbers will get you promoted, the defensive numbers are poor, especially away from home.

How would I line up against Burton?

For me, I liked the five back that was used earlier in the season. Bailey Wright at right centre back was instrumental in Dajaku pushing up from right wing back.

I would drop Dan Neil and rest him for a few matches. He’s played 2550 minutes this season, which is the 3rd highest in our team, and he looks out of form.

Otherwise - we could give Arby some game time, bring in Jack Clarke and push Winchester to the middle with Matete.


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