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Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Tactics: What the data shows us about savvy Sunderland’s demolition of Rotherham

Sunderland kicked off the Tony Mowbray era with a clinical display against Rotherham at the Stadium of Light. What does the data tell us about the game?

Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sunderland started with the same XI from Norwich and Rotherham mirrored Sunderland’s formation, lining up 3-1-4-2.

Shots and xG

Previous data helped me predict how this game might unfold. Rotherham in their two games away (QPR, Preston) recorded 1.1 xG for but 3.9 xG against. Across Sunderland’s three home games (Coventry, QPR, Norwich) recorded 6 xG for and 3.6 xG against.

Bizarrely, we had only three shots on target against Rotherham with the rest saved or missed. The data only shows two goals, it classes Stewart's 2nd goal as saved despite the ball finding the net.

Pass Networks

Sunderland’s data shows good organisation and a system that everyone understands. Ross Stewart sits in as a false nine for Sunderland, allowing him to progress our attacking moves.

Our central midfielders are crucial to creating space out wide and making the wing back system work. Corry Evans links up with Cirkin and Clarke on the left, and Dan Neil repeats this on the right with Gooch and O’Nien. This allows space either out wide or inside for someone to attack as the opposition defence struggles to cover all the options.

For example, Cirkin for the first goal chooses the inside to run into and links up with Pritchard. He gets a bit lucky with the bounce of the ball but creates space on the wing.

Corry Evans at that stage is our wing back, so if we passed to him or Clarke, we have an overload and space to attack. Sheffield United under Chris Wilder had a similar tactic with left and right centre backs creating an overload.

From a tactical point of view, Rotherham putting Norton-Cuffy on the wing against this system was a bad move. Clarke had an excellent game with a goal and two assists as we exploited a clear weakness.


Learning from your lessons

Only a few weeks ago we found ourselves cruising with a 2-0 lead against QPR but ending up throwing it away with some bad luck and mismanaging the game. In fact, you can argue Coventry and Norwich are also good examples of where we mismanaged the game in the 2nd half and allowed teams to get a foothold.

Mowbray didn’t hesitate to make changes and proactively dealt with the game which Alex Neil beforehand failed to do. Rotherham made three subs in the 75th minute and Mowbray reacted, getting Bailey Wright ready immediately after. Although he didn’t come on until the 83rd minute, he was ready a few minutes before but we had to wait for the sub.

Our next game is against Chris Wilder and Middlesbrough, who will know what to expect from this system. I anticipate that he will saturate the wide areas to prevent Clarke and Goochfrom crossing the ball as we are having success when allowed to cross.

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