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Talking Tactics

Sunderland battle must start out wide

Adrian Clarke 7 Jan 2017
Patrick van Aanholt, Sunderland

Adrian Clarke on how stopping and providing more crosses could raise David Moyes' hopes of avoiding the drop

With the January transfer window open, Adrian Clarke discusses where certain teams need to strengthen. After Middlesbrough, Clarke assesses what David Moyes could do at Sunderland.

With funds to invest, David Moyes would probably like to improve several areas of his Sunderland side but the department I feel most needs addressing is the full-back/wing-back position.

Sunderland's Patrick van Aanholt in action with Watford's Nordin Amrabat
Patrick van Aanholt, right, has scored three goals but delivered 10 successful crosses in 19 PL appearances

With and without the ball there is room for improvement on Sunderland's flanks.

While Patrick van Aanholt has caught the eye with three goals, the Dutchman has delivered only 10 successful crosses in 19 Premier League appearances this term.

The right, where several players have been used, has been similarly unproductive.

Having attacking midfielders who mainly want to drive infield, there is an onus on the full-backs to provide width.

Donald Love, Sunderland
Donald Love is Sunderland's most productive crosses over the last five Matchweeks with three deliveries

Across Sunderland's last five Premier League matches, only Van Aanholt (two) and Donald Love (three) have made more than one successful cross in total from open play. That’s not enough.

Lowest number of crosses delivered (excluding corners)

Club Total crosses
Sunderland 250
Burnley 267
AFC Bournemouth 278

There is an argument Jermain Defoe is not the type of striker who demands crosses. Aerially that is true, but it should still be a concern that Sunderland have produced the fewest deliveries of all 20 teams in 2016/17.

Moyes’ men have mustered just 17 headed efforts on goal, the lowest in the division by eight. To put that dearth into context, Swansea City lead the way with 56.

By crossing so little, Sunderland are narrowing the variety of goals they can score.

At the other end of the pitch, the full-backs have not fared much better.

Opponents have sometimes targeted Van Aanholt’s positional sense, while enjoying success down Sunderland’s right on occasions, too. Billy Jones, Jason Denayer, Love and Javier Manquillo have all been tried, but none have been able to claim the berth for themselves.

Sunderland v Chelsea, Jermain Defoe and Gary Cahill
The prolific Jermain Defoe is not known for his heading ability

Sunderland must work harder to stop crosses going into their box. Burnley are the only Premier League side to have allowed more.

If the full-backs are asked to defend narrowly it is not always their responsibility to block crosses, but in general rule Sunderland have allowed too many crosses and it has cost them goals.

Sunderland's defence of crosses

Club Open-play crosses faced Club Goals conceded from crosses
Burnley 372 Watford 17
Sunderland 362 Sunderland 12
Watford 353 Stoke City 11

If Moyes is able to bring in natural full-backs with top-flight experience who have an appetite for both defending and contributing quality deliveries in the attacking third, they would almost certainly help Sunderland's battle against relegation .


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