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Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Sky Bet League One

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Talking Tactics: What does the data say about Sunderland’s win against Crewe?

Sunderland’s performance against Crewe was less than convincing, but what does the data tell us about the way we played? RR’s resident number cruncher Brandon explores further...

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


Sunderland lined up 3-5-2, mirroring how the lads finished against Fleetwood midweek.

Crewe also lined up in the same system.

xG & Shots

This caught my eye when looking at the data. Sunderland produced 14 shots compared to Crewe’s three. However, we created less xG over the match.

How can that be?

Courtesy of @xG_data on Twitter, we can see that Crewe had much better chances, but very few of them. Compared with Sunderland, who created only half-chances at best all match. Even the two goals we scored accumulate to a low xG.

Player Locations

Crewe struggled to maintain any form of possession in the game - it was so bad that no player managed to pass more than five times to another player.

Sunderland dominated possession and this is reflected in the visual above, with most players getting plenty of touches.

Sunderland's build-up play originated from the left-hand side of the pitch, with Cirkin and Bailey Wright seeing a lot of the ball during the match. Cirkin and Wright made 38 passes combined between themselves, highlighting how often our back line saw the ball.

The only player who we couldn’t get involved in the match was Jermain Defoe.


From the Passing Visuals, we can see where the different play styles are at work for Sunderland. Jay Matete is a box-to-box midfielder and makes more passes in the opposition half. Corry Evans prefers to sit deeper, and makes more in his own half, making more sideways and backward passes than Jay Matete.

A concern to me was how isolated Jermain Defoe was for Sunderland. I don’t see Defoe as anything other than an impact sub, and he attempted five passes before being brought off in the 63rd minute.

Defoe isn’t in the team to be passing the ball like a central midfielder, but it’s a good indicator of how involved he was in the match. I would prefer to see Nathan Broadhead playing with Ross Stewart should the Everton loanee manage to stay fit.

Progressive Passing

With Sunderland seeing 70% of possession in the game, our passing numbers are slightly inflated. Progressive passing sees a great example of what happens you pass it around the defence - Bailey Wright attempted 39 progressive passes in the match, often trying to hit the wings with a longer pass.

I can’t be sure if this is a tactic or just down to a lack of creativity. I will say it’s likely the latter, and also something Alex Neil and the team have identified in the analysis of Crewe.

Dan Neil played around 30 minutes attempted six progressive passes, with three of them successful. That seems low but average that over a 90-minute football match and that is a healthy number of progressive passes.

One of the successful passes was his link-up with Ross Stewart for Sunderland’s winner.

I feel like Sunderland lacked creativity all match, and it was a spark of quality from Dan Neil which saved Sunderland from a probable 0-0 draw.

We are winning but not playing well.

It’s difficult to say where that takes Sunderland heading into the final eight matches, considering it’s taken two late winners to see us pass Crewe and Fleetwood.

The unbeaten run stands at five games and I am hopeful for the lads this will give us momentum into a potential playoff run - fact is, nobody wants to spend another season in League One.


On This Day (27th February 1999): Turn on and tune in, but only once you’ve paid up


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With a huge game to come against Southampton, let’s give the Lasses maximum support!

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