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Talking Tactics: How Jack Clarke became the biggest beneficiary of the Roberts and Amad show

Jack Clarke has put up record numbers of goal contributions this season despite not being the centre of attention. But just how has he done it?

Photo by Mike Morese/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Lots of Sunderland’s external praise this year has been focused on the amazing link-up play showcased between Amad and Patrick Roberts – with the duo providing countless social media clips of quick passing, outstanding solo efforts, and dozens of nutmegs with each passing game.

However, of Sunderland’s attacking threats, Jack Clarke is the one who has received the most transfer speculation, and fans may be quick to ask the question of why?

Sunderland v Watford - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Clarke has just put up his best numbers to date almost discreetly as the spotlight shined elsewhere – let’s dive into some of his advanced analytics from this year to find out how the Amad and Roberts show has allowed Clarke to thrive.

Following his loan campaign in the 2021-22 season, Jack Clarke made the permanent switch to Wearside during the pre-season of 2022 and has more than trebled his productive output at Sunderland since our return to the second tier – finishing the season with 11 goals and 13 assists in 48 starts in all competitions.

Having hit double figures in both goals and assists, his stats are certainly not something to be scoffed at.

Despite operating at a slightly unorthodox left wing back role for Sunderland during the latter stages of Alex Neil’s tenure, Clarke was still able to exploit his natural pace and technical ability on the break and offered Sunderland a threat on the transition.

Following the change to Tony Mowbray, Clarke was given much more freedom at the attacking end and resumed service in his more natural left wing position, being able to perform his trademark cut in and shoot or take his fullback down the line and flash a cross towards the goalmouth.

Sunderland mostly operated in a 4-2-3-1 system under Mowbray using a number 10 in the shape of Amad or Alex Pritchard.

Traditionally, the number 10 acts as a distributor to both of the wide players by providing balls into the half-space for them to attack with pace or offering an additional body within the channel to create overloads and passing triangles as the below image shows.

Heat Map of the space occupied by a traditional No.10.
The Athletic -

As Amad and Patrick Roberts developed a flourishing partnership with one another, this left Sunderland in an almost asymmetrical shape during build-up, with Clarke often being isolated on the left-wing without support from his fellow teammates. On the surface, this often-frustrated fans as the lack of support for Clarke was clear within games as possession seemed to pass him by. However, did this instead work in Clarke’s favour?

During the 22/23 season, Clarke finished with an xG of 5.5 and an xA of 6.8, yet ended up with 11 goals and 13 assists. This showcases an almost double output on his expected goals and assists, demonstrating Clarke thrived in situations where he could isolate his fullback one against one.

Furthermore, his progressive carries stat for the season stands at 4.35 per 90, placing him in the 86th percentile of all wingers in the league and showcases his ability to carry the ball great distances in the transition, using the extra space to his advantage.

Using the lopsided approach to build up, Sunderland were able to generate substantial amounts of space for Clarke to exploit and, following a quick switch of play, allowed the winger to do what he’s best at, attacking fullbacks one on one.

Jack Clarke’s Advanced Analytics 22/23

One of the most intriguing stats from Clarke’s season has been his ability to direct Sunderland’s play into the box and draw the opposition defenders to him. As shown above, he carries the ball into the penalty area 2.61 times per game, placing him in the 97th percentile in the league despite only having 44.1 touches per game, placing him way down in the 37th percentile for his position.

In addition to this, Clarke is only dispossessed 1.9 times per game, again in the 16th percentile, demonstrating that he’s able to retain the ball in high-pressure situations, while he’s continuously harried by opposition defenders.

In short, Clarke is amazingly direct in his approach despite having limited touches, showcasing his fearlessness and desire to attack the opposition at every opportunity.

Despite him seemingly feeling isolated in games, Clarke’s underlying numbers show a player who thrives off situations whereby he can attack the opposition in singular matchups. The overloads created on the opposite flank helped Clarke more than hinder him as they alleviated the opportunity for teams to double up on him and slow his ball progression down.

Sunderland v Watford - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

All in all, Clarke’s quietly continued to plug away in the face of all Sunderland’s injury concerns this season and showcased the Premier League talent Speakman identified with the initial loan move. With fresh reports guaranteed daily until the transfer window closes on 1 September, Sunderland can only hope to hold on to Clarke for as long as possible.

When the right offer eventually comes in for him, Clarke will be seen as the first of many in a long line of Sunderland assets with large futures ahead of them.

For now, though, let’s just keep him a secret and hope he extends his stay on Wearside just that little bit longer.


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