No one needs reminding that Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Preston means we’ve started the season with two defeats from two – leaving the lads at the bottom of the Championship table, along with neighbours Middlesbrough.
But while the points tally says zero, what does the underlying data tell us? We’ll take a look into some of the analytics from Sunderland’s opening two fixtures to figure out whether the position in the table is actually a fair reflection of how the lads have performed so far on the pitch this season.
It doesn’t take a data analyst to work out that SAFC are lacking in the ‘goal poaching’ department with Ross Stewart’s long-term injury and Hemir’s slow start to the campaign – however, this shouldn’t take away from the overall performance of the team.
Arguably Sunderland’s greatest assets last season were our two inverted wingers; Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts. On their day, they are capable of torching any championship defender with ease and creating chances for themselves or others.
The two widemen for Sunderland have started the season well, with Patrick Roberts tied first for the most successful dribbles in the league with nine completed, closely followed by Jack Clarke with seven, placing him joint third.
In one-against-ones in the Championship, Patrick Roberts leads this category with 34 take-ons and Jack Clarke second with 26. This demonstrates that Sunderland are feeding the ball to their creative players regularly and they’re producing moments of individual quality in doing so.
In addition, Sunderland also top the table for the most crosses across the six-yard box and rank fourth for overall touches within the box, showcasing that we are creating chances – we just haven’t been able to convert them so far.
It’s clear to see that chances are being generated in abundance however, Sunderland’s main issue is simply placing the finishing touch and generating goals from good xG opportunities – something supported by the fact that Sunderland have missed six ‘big chances’ to convert in their opening two league fixtures this season.
Sunderland have averaged the fourth-highest possession in the league so far, pairing that with the second-most passes into the final third and the second fewest passes per defensive action, which showcases that on-the-ball, we pass forward quickly and incisively.
But when we lose the ball, we press quickly to win it back and regain control of possession.
All of these are promising signs that, over the course of a season, would place Sunderland in a great position after 46 games.
Young players are expected to make mistakes, and when we play a possession-heavy and quick transitional style of football with a team of players who were legally not able to consume alcohol on their recent pre-season tour of the United States, there will be lapses in concentration.
Dan Neil, who early last season was a repeat offender for surrendering possession, looks to have rectified those mistakes one season on, however, the same grace period should also be applied to Jobe and Pierre Ekwah, who still have less than 50 career appearances between them.
Should fans be concerned about Sunderland’s start to the season?
From a statistical point of view, the short answer is no.
Despite two league games being a small sample size of a whole season, Sunderland have shown to be in total control of games, dominating possession and chances created in both instances.
All four of Sunderland’s goals conceded this season have all been breakaways – these have resulted from a self-inflicted mistake by Sunderland players losing possession and not through progressive build-up play. This highlights that when out-of-possession, Sunderland look defensively assured and teams have so far been unable to break down an organised and structured Sunderland backline.
Once Sunderland iron out their cheap losses of possession and players start to recognise patterns of play, the signs are promising. Goals will come and with it, player confidence.
Hopefully, when players, and especially young players, gain confidence, the fast-paced and free-flowing attacking football from last season will emerge – and results will follow.
All statistics taken from SAFC Data Analysis on Twitter (@SAFC_Analysis)