The Season Just Gone
As in seemingly every other Sunderland season in recent memory, 2015-16 was one long and embarrassing slog characterised by repeated, gargantuan incompetence. As usual, they played like the rag-tag ensemble of misfits and miscreants that they were. As usual, they changed manager halfway through the season and used the new man’s organisational skills and passion for football as their Plan A, neither realising nor caring that motivation isn’t a like-for-like substitute for talent. As usual, they miraculously escaped relegation at the end of it all and retained their Premier League place.
It was all so tedious and miserable and depressing. It’s hard not to feel like Sunderland’s consistency is to be admired: they’re like some kind of freakishly useless and even-more-miserable Arsenal. And that really, really, really takes some doing.
The Season Ahead
As in seemingly every other Sunderland season in recent memory, 2016-17 will probably be one long and embarrassing slog characterised by repeated, gargantuan incompetence. As usual, they’ll play like the rag-tag ensemble of misfits and miscreants that they are. As usual, they’ll change manager halfway through the season and use the new man’s organisational skills and passion for football as their Plan A, neither realising nor caring that motivation isn’t a like-for-like substitute for talent. As usual, they’ll miraculously escape relegation at the end of it all and retain their Premier League place.
Or: David Moyes might just sort it out. But let’s be real, the first four games have already shown us that that is just not going to happen.
So far, Sunderland seem not to have had any tactics. However, there’s presumably some kind of abstract plan behind this madness. Based on what Moyes commits to paper on his teamsheet, Sunderland have generally played a reactive 4-4-1-1 and in the truest of Moyes traditions, focused on "making it hard for the opposition". The idea is to sit deep, close space, use long balls to rapidly advance up the pitch, win set pieces and then try to steal one with a sucker punch. The wide players and second striker have licence to play, but the guys in the middle simply have to work hard.
Unfortunately for Moyes, this kind of half-baked Football League loser bulls**t doesn’t fly at the top level any more. He punched above his weight with this stuff for over a decade in a division which, frankly, hadn’t caught up with the rest of the world. Now that the Premier League has taken huge steps forward in the last few years, Moyes looks like an idiot.
He looked like an idiot at Manchester United and he looked like an even bigger one when he went to Spain and preached a totally different kind of underdog football to the one that Real Sociedad’s players knew worked. Now he looks like an idiot at Sunderland. Back in San Sebastian, word came out of the dressing room that Moyes’ tactical work was basically non-existent – these days that seems very easy to believe.
This shouldn’t take very long. Nonetheless, they’re not without strengths. Or, rather, a strength: individual talent.
Their average of 14 dribbles per game is the Premier League’s second highest: Adnan Januzaj alone accounts for 4.3 dribbles per game and Duncan Watmore is also chipping in nicely. Veteran striker and ex-Spur Jermain Defoe has a trusty snapshot and the law of the ex dictates that he’ll smack one past Hugo Lloris just when Sunderland least deserve it. Finally, marauding left-back Patrick Van Aanholt is a goal threat, somehow.
TL:DR: they’re Sunderland: they’re terrible.
So far, so Sunderland: they’ve only taken 10.3 shots per game and they’ve only put 3 of those on target per game, giving them very little chance to actually score goals. At the other end, they’ve received 15 shots per game, allowing 5.8 on target, making it as easy for their opposition to score goals as it is difficult for them. One reason that this has happened (again) is that they simply can’t keep the ball: they’ve had an average of 39.7% possession across four games, the second lowest average in the league; their figure of 69.9% pass completion is absolutely embarrassing for a Premier League team in this era.
All this would be just about supportable if they worked hard and knew how to defend, but they don’t. They don’t do much to win the ball back, making only 14.3 tackles per game – the league’s third lowest number – and a middling 14.8 interceptions per game. Furthermore, their average of 25.3 clearances per game is a lower number than Manchester City, who average nearly twice as much possession.
Mauricio Pochettino could ring the changes after a hugely disappointing night at Wembley on Wednesday, while David Moyes has a few selection headaches of his own after an equally miserable thrashing at the hands of Everton on Monday night. It’s very possible that both managers will spring a surprise in order to provoke a reaction. Erring on the side of caution, we can expect something like the below.
Spurs could barely ask for a better pick-me-up fixture after their chastening Champions League defeat to Monaco. A comfortable 2-0 win looks pretty much inevitable.