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Sunderland v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Tactics: How did Swansea break through Sunderland’s well organised ten man defence?

RR’s resident analyst Coel Young dissects Tony Mowbray’s gameplan against Swansea, and ponders how The Swans managed to successfully break down Sunderland’s well-organised rearguard

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

Lineups and Shape (4-2-3-1 vs 4-Diamond-2)

Swansea actually used a diamond, with Fulton RCM and Cooper as the No.10

Positive Start

Prior to the red card, we had made a really positive start, pressing high and exploiting Swansea’s out-of-possession shape effectively.

We looked to turn the ball over high, with Diallo and Neil locking on to Grimes and Allen in the build-up:

Swansea used a diamond in and out of possession, and we were constantly able to use Gooch and Hume to play around their pressure and receive with space and time.

Swansea’s midfield three having to shift across a big distance meant couldn’t get immediate pressure on the ball.

Narrow front three easy to bypass
Lack of balance in their midfield three when shifting across; easy to switch

Out of possession and when we regained our shape, we looked to compact the middle to deny passes into central areas where Swansea would look to position players between our lines.

Roberts protecting the middle first before pressing wide

Red card

The red card forced us into an immediate change, with Roberts withdrawn for Batth. This also saw us switch shape into a 5-3-1 with Clarke dropping in at wing-back, and similarly, we sat a lot deeper in more of a deep block following this.

Swansea also became far more aggressive in their positioning. Both full-backs moved high and wide, and they only left the No.6 in Grimes, and the two centre backs behind the ball.

All other players were positioned behind our midfield line.

Two full-backs aggressively pushed on; Allen also moving between lines

Our defensive organisation for the remainder of the half was largely good.

Our defensive line locked on man-man against their front three, our wing-backs engaged quickly, and Neil and Evans shifted across the pitch and screened passes well.

Backline engaging tightly and midfield squeezing space
Good compactness to deny central passes


However, despite being down the ten men, Amad was an absolute passenger and almost completely neglected his defensive responsibility, which caused us massive issues down our right side.

Throughout the entire match, he neither screened any passes centrally and constantly allowed passes between our lines, and never looked to double up with Gooch against their advanced full-back.

Amad doesn’t narrow off, Swansea create the overload
Doesn’t narrow off again, walking back into position

In hindsight, he should have probably been the player withdrawn over Roberts, who would’ve offered us far more from a defensive perspective. Mowbray has been smart in playing him as a No.10 in recent matches to hide his lack of defensive work, however this becomes an issue you can’t hide when a man down.


The goals themselves came from the constant issues down our right hand side and the advanced positioning of Manning in the second half, which overloaded Gooch. Swansea were able to pin Ballard and Gooch into central positions, which combined with Amad’s neglect of any defensive work, gave space for Manning down the left in the opening goal.

The second goal came again from Amad’s lack of defensive concentration and awareness, being stuck in no man’s land and not covering the central pass.

This enabled Swansea to create the overload out wide and put in a low and hard cross into the six-yard box.

Finally, we pushed Clarke on to press as we chased our second goal, which ultimately left us massively exposed down the flanks.

Our equalising goal showed the risks Swansea were taking in possession, often leaving 2v1’s against Stewart on the halfway line.

One of the few occasions we were able to retain the ball was in the build-up to the equaliser, where Neil exploited the space down the sides of their centre backs with a good forward run.

Unfortunately, however, we did not create enough of these moments throughout the match.


It was a shame that our aggressive and front-foot start was ruined by the red card to O’Nien, as it would’ve been interesting to see if we could have sustained it against one of most possession-dominant sides in the division.

On the whole we were disciplined and organised in our defending, however this was undermined by the defensive contributions of Amad, who left Gooch completely exposed down our right.

It is important Amad’s offensive contributions continue to outweigh his (lack of) defensive ones over the coming weeks/months, albeit his inclusion as a number ten has given us more balance in recent weeks by hiding those defensive shortcomings.

A final mention to Dan Neil, who showed a lot of maturity and discipline in his performance.

One of my biggest criticisms of Neil is his lack of discipline and awareness from a defensive perspective, often jumping out of position and leaving gaps behind.

This was massively improved on Saturday, as well as his brilliant contribution to his equalising goal.


Matchday Musings: Pressure builds on Tony Mowbray as Sunderland slump to defeat


Talking Points: A poor result for Sunderland Walking Football Club!


On This Day (30th November 2020): Much changing at the SoL after Sunderland sack Phil Parkinson!

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