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Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Tactics: What went wrong for Sunderland against Ipswich?

We dissect all the action from Saturday’s trip to Portman Road.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Opposition line up

With several key players out for the Tractor Boys, Kieran McKenna was forced to make numerous changes to his side ahead of the late kick-off against Sunderland. With Ipswich dropping out of the automatics due to the earlier games, McKenna was looking to grab three points against Beale’s Sunderland to regain an automatic place.

The Ipswich boss made three changes from the previous league game against Stoke, with John Taylor and new signing Lewis Travis slotting into midfield and the dangerous Leif Davis returning to left-back for the hosts in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Ipswich v Sunderland Line-Up
FutMob

Sunderland line up

After a deflating weekend in the FA Cup, Sunderland looked to return to winning ways with a tough away fixture. One change was made from the victory over Preston on New Year’s Day, with Abdoullah Ba coming in to replace Rusyn, meaning Alex Pritchard shifted into a more natural central role.

Mick Beale opted for a slightly different shape, setting his side up in a 4-4-2 both in and out of possession, with Jobe leading the line and Alex Pritchard alongside him to direct the press. The more orthodox approach of shape meant Sunderland was defensively tighter; however, it did limit their ability to create passing triangles due to the lack of vertical spacing across the midfield.

Sunderland v Ipswich (A) Line-Up
FutMob

Defensive organisation

Despite the result going against Sunderland, one aspect of Mick Beale’s coaching that has been somewhat of a positive during his short reign has been Sunderland’s ability to tighten things up in the defensive end of the pitch following his arrival.

If we put the Coventry game aside, all but one of the six goals Sunderland have conceded under Beale have either come from speculative strikes or mistakes of our own doing, and we have also notched up two clean sheets in that time.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Leif Davis, Ipswich’s talisman for providing assists (14 in League One last season and 10 so far in this Championship campaign), was kept under wraps during the game and was only able to impact from his eventual set-piece delivery that led to the winning goal for Ipswich.

By deploying Ba on the right to screen Davis’ passing lanes, Davis was unable to receive the ball in threatening positions for Ipswich and was forced to hug the left touchline for the majority of the game, getting no change whatsoever. For a player as prolific as Davis to only create two chances in the game, both coming from identical set-pieces, demonstrates that Beale was able to nullify the main creative threat from McKenna’s side.


Attacking expense

Although the defensive side of the game has seen some improvements, the concern for Sunderland is that it’s clearly come at the expense of the attacking output that the team has been renowned for at times this season and has become the ‘blueprint for success’ that Speakman was clearly trying to build.

The reliance Sunderland has had on Jack Clarke this season can't be underestimated. However, as Sunderland’s main catalyst for success, he only had 50 touches in this game (2 in the opposition box) and only completed one of two dribbles attempted. Just as we were able to keep Davis quiet, Ipswich too were able to curtail Clarke’s impact.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

A graphic shown during the Sky Sports coverage can be seen below and indicates how poorly Sunderland have been in attacking areas of the pitch compared to how they should be performing, with Clarke the only player in positive numbers for the contribution he’s made compared to the chances & opportunities he’s been given.

Sunderland’s Attacking Players per xG Contribution
Sky Sports Football

Accommodating Jobe

Subjectively, I love Jobe. Even without the prestigious surname, I think for an 18-year-old to come into a playoff team and not look out of place is a fantastic achievement. I love his work ethic, his intelligence for such a young age, and how careful and smart he normally is in possession of the football.

But – and this is a big but – Sunderland’s insistence of playing Jobe in every match is now coming at the expense of the overall balance and shape of the team as a result – and it’s having a negative effect on the way Sunderland play.

By shoehorning Jobe into the side, we lose the vertical spacing of a striker adopting that role on the pitch, and it shows. As Jobe drops deeper to receive the ball, he turns, and it’s painfully obvious the gaping hole is left with no Sunderland player in sight to pass forward to and advance the play.

Sunderland v Ipswich Passing Map
McLachbot

Looking at Jobe’s passing map above, it’s clear that although he was able to lead the line and run into the channels, far too often he found himself drifting back into his natural midfield position and was left with no forward outlet to progress the ball up the pitch on the attack.


Natural width

Due to Patrick Roberts’ injury before the turn of the year, Sunderland have looked incredibly one-dimensional when it comes to attacking with any real natural width. Despite Sunderland’s best chances coming from two quick switches from right to left, Jack Clarke is never often able to repay the favour when he’s surrounded by opposition defenders.

Although Ba was clearly trusted in the role for tactical reasons on the defensive side of the ball, he doesn’t offer much when attacking fullbacks and routinely lays the ball back to teammates rather than looking to attack the space.

Only one out of four dribbles was successful (albeit the successful one led to an assist), making it far too predictable when it comes to defending against Sunderland on the counterattack and, therefore, severely limiting chance creation.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

In conclusion

With no natural right-winger in Sunderland’s squad, Beale needs to find a way of providing variation to Sunderland’s attacking patterns – and he needs to do so quickly.

With three big home games on the horizon for Sunderland, Beale could find himself staring down the barrel after only eight weeks in the job. Unless contractual obligations are in place, a rest for Jobe and a definitive inclusion of a striker is paramount to Sunderland’s success moving forward.

With another week on the training ground ahead of the Hull game on Friday, Beale has some big tweaks to make to get Sunderland firing on all cylinders once again.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Portman Road Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images
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