A lack of substitutes shows how serious Alex Neil is taking this early pre-season.
Friendlies are renowned for what seems to be an endless amount of substitutes that constantly kill the momentum and flow of the match, but yesterday was the complete opposite for Alex Neil.
While many managers change the full side at 60 minutes, half-time, or even three teams per 30 minutes as Jurgen Klopp did, Alex Neil only made two substitutions yesterday, as many of Sunderland’s side got 90 minutes.
It is refreshing to see that Sunderland are trying to keep their friendlies as matchlike as possible, keeping the intensity high and going for results over just a case of increasing fitness.
This approach makes the matches far more interesting to watch, and it is also great to see partnerships building and some experience of a similar group playing in the same system.
The likes of Dan Ballard have slotted in excellently, and this team feels like a continuation from last season with a great feel-good factor and winning mentality among the group.
There are still positions where we need more depth, but so far, pre-season has been enjoyable the watch, with the squad giving a great account of themselves.
Alex Neil's take on this afternoon's win at Tannadice.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) July 16, 2022
Full interview... pic.twitter.com/FD5wKZHkp7
Playing Jack Diamond on up front shows just how much Sunderland need a striker!
Ross Stewart once again was excellent and caused problems throughout the match, but subbing him off for Jack Diamond really did show how much of a lack of depth we have in that position.
We managed to get away with it last season, but the last thing Alex Neil would need is for Stewart to pick up a knock before Coventry and for Sunderland to have to play without a recognised striker.
Even at reserve level, we have had to temporarily re-sign Will Harris to cover as we do not have a recognised forward.
The club have been strongly linked with the permanent signing of Nathan Broadhead, as well as the loan signing of Troy Parrot, and one or both of these transfers can’t come too soon as Neil needs additional firepower and a Plan B to come off the bench – or in the event of an injury.
It will be interesting to see who covers Stewart throughout the rest of pre-season. He is unlikely to play 90 minutes in every match – after Dajaku and Diamond have been tried up there, maybe Jack Clarke will be next?
Dan Neil is looking re-energised this pre-season!
Another refreshing part of yesterday’s match was the performance of Dan Neil, who looked excellent in a more free central midfield role.
With the cover of the steady Corry Evans, Neil was able to break forward with quick give-and-goes, and make progressive passes – and he also showed some bite through some excellent recovery tackles.
Out of Sunderland’s current central midfield options, Neil is by far the most creative and the most capable of making a defence-splitting pass.
In games where Alex Neil feels Sunderland can get on the front foot and dominate possession, Dan Neil is exactly the type of player you would want on the pitch to support the likes of Alex Pritchard and Patrick Roberts in making things happen.
After a drop in both confidence and minutes after being overplayed at the start of the last season, Neil now looks re-energised and, hopefully, throughout the rest of pre-season, he can continue to stay sharp and push for a starting spot against Coventry.
Is Leon Dajaku trying too hard to score?
Although we won 2-0 and were fairly unchallenged, a slight negative for me was the attacking display from Leon Dajaku, who seemed to be trying too hard to score.
The German’s defensive efforts could not be faulted as he worked incredibly hard, but going forward, I felt he was either taking extra touches by trying to shoot when a better option was there – or simply showing a lack of composure.
A failed one-vs-one and moment of outrage with himself rather summarised his afternoon in attack.
Last season we saw that a confident Dajaku can finish excellently, but so far this pre-season he seems to be trying too hard to score rather than assist – to the detriment of the team.
In our remaining matches, I hope that the 21-year-old finds the net and starts to rebuild his confidence as he was one of Sunderland’s best players last December. Adding more consistency to his game will be key to him breaking into Alex Neil’s starting XI.