We return to Premier League action against Sunderland on Saturday, and ahead of the game Michael Cox analyses their strengths and the key areas.
After Sam Allardyce departed in the summer for the England job, David Moyes appeared a natural fit for Sunderland. Although he endured an unhappy spell with Manchester United, he had performed consistently at Everton and was particularly renowned for creating an organised, well-drilled side.
Things haven’t gone so well so far, however. Nine games into the season, Sunderland are yet to record a victory and yet to keep a clean sheet.
Moyes initially used a 4-2-3-1 formation featuring three mobile playmakers alternating positions behind Jermain Defoe. However, the defensive issues saw Moyes tweak the system, moving to more of a 4-1-4-1, which can look like 4-3-3 or sometimes 4-3-2-1 when the creative Wahbi Khazri and the direct Duncan Watmore move forward from the flanks.
Didier N’Dong, Jack Rodwell and Paddy McNair or Steven Pienaar form a solid midfield trio, which allows attack-minded full-backs Javier Manquillo and Patrick van Aanholt to push forward.
Although not naturally a lone striker and more accustomed to playing just off a target man, Defoe has adjusted well to playing up front on his own. His 15 goals last season were a major factor in keeping Sunderland up.
The Black Cats also move the ball effectively down the flanks, working two-against-one situations when the full-backs push forward, although they look more threatening when attempting cut-backs rather than crosses, as they lack an aerial threat.
Khazri has a tendency to drift in and out of matches, but on his day he’s a fantastically talented playmaker capable of providing penetration from between the lines.
He also boasts a truly exceptional set-piece delivery, and this might be Sunderland’s most promising route to goal.
AREAS TO TARGET
No clean sheets tells its own story, and while both John O’Shea and Lamine Kone are good centre backs and dominant in the air, they can be exposed when the full-backs push forward. The pace of Alexis and Theo Walcott could be decisive.
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