After beating Stoke at the Britannia, it all boils down to Spurs vs Sunderland with Champions League qualification on the line.
Arsenal may hold the cards with their slender advantage in the table, but we have to do our job and take all three points against the Black Cats.
So what can we expect from Paulo Di Canio’s revamped Mackems and what should be the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Sunderland this time?
Sunderland set up and style
Since Paulo Di Canio has taken over at Sunderland, the one thing he has done is increase the tempo.
Under Martin O’Neill the side had become quite slow and lethargic, but the Italian encourages the ball to be moved wider much quicker.
He also wants his players to move higher up in order to engage the opposition. This doesn’t involve playing a high defensive line though, as the Sunderland centre backs aren’t that mobile. They press through the attackers and advanced midfielders, with Alfred N’Diaye dropping off to screen his defence. However, he can get caught moving forward and this leaves space in between the midfield and the back four. This is an area that can be exposed, which we’ll look at in where they concede chances.
In possession, the ball is moved quickly out to Adam Johnson and Danny Rose. Both players have great energy and can burst forwards rapidly, something which Sunderland cash in on.
Rose, who is ineligible to play on Sunday, does it through give and go passes; Johnson advances the ball with direct dribbling. Both are effective, but without Rose, we may see James McClean in an attempt to keep the width.
Up front, Danny Graham plays more as a hold-up man than an out-and-out striker. He is decent in the air, but doesn’t threaten to run in-behind or get in the box as often as Steven Fletcher was prior to injury.
Against Southampton last week we saw a typical Graham performance. He was receiving longer balls played forward that he knocks down or lays-off and he retains possession when doing this. However, any kind of incisive passes that he tries to play fail to find their target.
As a result Sunderland have taken the fewest shots in the Premier League in the six games Paulo Di Canio has presided over. They also have the fewest shots on target, as they are able to build play, but don’t have anyone with any cutting edge to finish it off.
The dangerous Adam Johnson
Without Danny Rose bursting forward from left back, the other danger man is Adam Johnson. He has played off Danny Graham as a number ten in the absence of Stephane Sessegnon recently, but he naturally plays as an inverted winger on the right.
Sunderland try and move the ball quickly to him from the midfield zone, so that he can gain speed and dribble at defenders, which he can be lethal at. When in the final third, he naturally cuts inside on to his favoured left foot and delivers the ball from the corner of the penalty area.
Against Stoke, the directness that Sunderland tried to move the ball to him is shown by the length of his passes received lines. His delivery in to the box often fails to find its target due to the Black Cats not getting enough players in the penalty area. This is something that they have failed to do since Steven Fletcher’s injury.
The Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Sunderland here will see Benoit Assou-Ekotto having a busy time. Without Danny Rose, the Mackems will be looking even more for Adam Johnson to get on the ball. The left back’s job will be to stop him cutting inside and show him down the line where he is less dangerous.
Benni can also get some help from our midfielders to stop the ball at source in the centre of the park, restricting the service. As Southampton showed last weekend and Aston Villa in their 6-1 win, to stop Sunderland doing this, you have to press them.
Press for success
Aston Villa thumped the Black Cats in their last away match, whilst Southampton out-shot them by 17-6 in their draw last week.
The one thing that both teams had in common was that they pressed up the field. This is key to restricting Sunderland in possession and stopping them moving the ball out to the wide players.
Aston Villa created turnovers in the Sunderland half, whilst blocking a number of Danny Rose runs down the left flank. Southampton squeezed them through central areas to restrict the service out to the wide players, generating 12 of their 16 interceptions inside the Black Cats’ half.
The Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Sunderland here should see our usual pressing game pay-off. The central striker (Adebayor) and number ten (Bale) both push on to the opposition centre backs, whilst they need to be backed up by Parker and Dembele in the centre.
Where Sunderland concede chances
Sunderland started well under Paulo Di Canio, but in their recent Premier League matches they have been exposed in two different ways.
Firstly, they have allowed chances from crossing situations. Southampton scored last week from a cross back in to the box that was met by Jason Puncheon. Both Stoke and Aston Villa scored from corners, as their lack of size has been exposed from open play and set pieces. During Paulo Di Canio’s six games in charge, Sunderland have conceded 20 shots from headers, only Man City (21) and Fulham (24) have allowed more in that time.
Secondly, the Black Cats been exposed by balls played in-behind their slow centre backs. Both John O’Shea and Carlos Cuellar are not fleet of foot and can be caught out by passes played in through the channels. As mentioned earlier, they are not aided by Alfred N’Diaye often pushing forward. This leaves too much space between himself and the back four, which can be taken advantage of in transition, as was the case last weekend for Southampton.
In Sunderland’s last two away trips, Aston Villa took advantage by crossing to Benteke, whilst using the speed of Agbonlahor and Wiemann to get in behind. Newcastle may have lost 3-0, but created twice as many chances as the Black Cats by also crossing and using the through ball.
The Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Sunderland will see us do well to follow suit. Andre Villas-Boas likes us to use through balls to runners cutting in-behind, as we saw from both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon in Spurs 2 Arsenal 1. We also used vertical passing to great effect last weekend at Stoke in our 2-1 victory.
Emmanuel Adebayor will start, but Jermain Defoe with his preference to play on the shoulder could be the better attacking option here.
Spurs vs Sunderland outlook
This game has a slightly different outlook with Sunderland now safe from relegation.
Had they come to the Lane needing a result, we would have expected to face a fired up side giving everything to stay up. Now, as Hugo Lloris commented this week “it’s not easy to play against a team that has no pressure, but we have to focus on ourselves.”
The Black Cats will be without a number of key players in Fletcher, Sessegnon, Gardner and Rose. They may come out and attack from the off with nothing to lose, but they cold also be flat after being ready for a relegation decider that is now a dead rubber for them.
In order to control this one, we have to be on them early, which means plenty of pressing to create turnovers. In possession we have to look to play balls in behind for runners looking to get on to. Set pieces and crossing situations also need to be exploited.
The team news that Benoit Assou-Ekotto is available could see him return at left back. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Jan Vertonghen there again in order to get Steven Caulker and Michael Dawson in the line-up. This would give us additional aerial power at corners and set pieces to take advantage of Sunderland’s lack of height.
We’ve quite regularly seen Andre Villas-Boas going after a quick goal in games like these where an opposition might try to frustrate us and I expect that approach here.
This could be a tense and nervous afternoon with more late goal drama.
Spurs vs Sunderland prediction: Spurs 2 Sunderland 1.