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Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Talking Tactics: Beale takes a point in the ‘‘Derby that’s not a Derby” Derby

Sunderland visited the Riverside in a clash between the Tees-Wear sides fighting out for playoff spots. How did Michael Beale’s side rescue a point on the road?

Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Opposition Line-Up

Michael Carrick made three changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Rotherham in their last league outing, with injuries to Isiah Jones & Morgan Rogers’ departure Carrick needed to switch things up.

Marcus Forss, Jonny Howson & Van Den Berg all returned to the side with Carrick option for a 4-2-3-1 formation, utilising Greenwood as a false nine to drop deep and exploit the space in between the central defenders.

Middlesbrough Line-Up

Sunderland Line-Up

Mick Beale decided to make one change from Sunderland’s home victory over Stoke, following January additions to the squad Leo Hjelde came in to deputise at left back for Sunderland providing that much needed balance to Sunderland’s defence.

With Jenson Seelt making way, Beale returned to his 4-3-3 formation utilising Dan Neil as the deepest midfielder with Jobe & Ekwah partnering him to the left and right respectively.

Sunderland Line-Up

First Half Flurry

Despite the typical atmosphere and occasion of a Tees-Wear derby, Sunderland started the game very well and created arguably the best chances of the first half.

Beale’s more pragmatic approach saw Sunderland attacking with more of a direct approach, faster interchanges of play saw early chances for Clarke & Ba and Sunderland amounted to 5 corners within the first half for their efforts.

Middlesborough v Sunderland Shot Map

Taking a look at the shot map above, we can see a clear concerted effort to muster more shots inside the box, consequently leading to higher xG opportunities as a result.

Most notably, none of these opportunities came through Mason Burstow, mainly due to his decision to drop deeper and link up with the play within build up.

Crossing Conundrum

Sunderland have often been guilty of finding themselves cross-shy in games this season. Having Trai Hume operate in his natural right-back role certainly made a difference, Hume flashed two great balls across the box in the opening exchanges and unfortunately Burstow wasn’t quite up to the play in order to capitalise on this.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Clarke, Hume & Hjelde attempted 10 crosses combined in this game which is a huge jump from Sunderland’s average this season and has clearly been an instruction passed on from Beale.

Half-Time Hump

There’s no denying that Sunderland went into the break feeling like they’d put a strong performance together despite being level at the break. The same however, could not be said for subsequent 15 minutes that followed. Carrick was able to exploit the narrow defensive shape Beale has deployed and resulted in Sunderland being put under sustained pressure from the restart.

Despite growing back into the game for the final quarter of the game, it’s a worrying concern for Beale’s side that they totally lost confidence and couldn’t retain possession following the restart.

Sunderland Individual Passing Maps

Neither Jobe or Ekwah were able to influence the game in the way they did during the first half and this often left Neil isolated against three Boro midfielders advancing on him in transition, the above passing statistics reflect this with Neil’s passing accuracy significantly dropping down to 83% and Jobe 81% respectively.

Ekwah’s Elevation

Pierre Ekwah was promoted from a holding role into a more advanced box-to-box role at Stoke which looks much more natural for the Frenchman.

He often found himself linking up well with Abdoullah Ba in pockets of space and distributed the ball well during the first half.

The below graphic highlights the importance of utilising Ekwah in a more advanced position as his passing numbers for breaking the opposition lines way outranks any other Sunderland midfielder.

Sunderland’s average defensive line splitting passes per game 23/24

Leo the Leftie

Making his full debut for Sunderland only five days after signing, Leo Hjelde slotted into the left back position for Sunderland in this game.

There’s no denying the young man was clearly lacking match sharpness and was beaten by the pace numerous times, (having not featured in the League since the opening day of the season) however there were clear signs of talent on display.

Hjelde overlapped with confidence and also underlapped at times, dropping into that inverted fullback roll to receive the ball on the half-turn breaking the Middlesbrough press with ease despite being a natural centre half.

Deploying a naturally left footed player at left back provided Sunderland with much needed balance and made Clarke’s job much easier by making space for the winger in doing so. It’s refreshing to see a natural leftie back in that position and Hjelde showcased all the signs of yet another shrewd signing in what could have been a very nervy debut for the Norwegian.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Reactive Rusyn

Following Middlesborough’s goal, Mick Beale opted to bring on Nazariy Rusyn in the 67th minute to try and claw a point back for Sunderland.

The Ukrainian changed the game for Sunderland, linking up play in midfield but also stretching the vertical width and even grabbing a goal for his efforts. Interestingly, Rusyn received passes from both his wide-men somewhat indicating either a change in tactics or a clear presence of trust from his wingers in comparison to Burstow.

Sunderland Passing Network

In Conclusion

Despite such a promising first half, Sunderland will feel that a point at the Riverside was one that was gained rather than two points being lost.

Although chances were created in the first half, Sunderland’s high line also left them exposed at times and could quite easily have seen the game out of sight if Middlesbrough had taken their opportunities.

With Plymouth & Huddersfield coming in the next 7 days for Beale’s side, he’ll be looking to make it 7 points from 9 which would be an excellent start to February for the lads in Red & White.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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