Tottenham tactics: Spurs vs Sunderland preview (h)

The last match of this Premier League weekend see us host the Black Cats with Spurs vs Sunderland at White Hart Lane.

Former Spurs man Gustavo Poyet is also in desperate need of the points with his side now bottom of the Premier League. So what can we expect and what should be the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Sunderland this time?

Sunderland tactical switch

Gus Poyet completely flipped the way Sunderland were playing when he took over from Paulo Di Canio.

The temperamental Italian was using a very high tempo pressing game and was looking to cross the ball at every opportunity during his brief time in charge.

Poyet has since introduced a ball possession and counter attacking style. Sunderland went from being frequent crossers of the ball to one of the fewest. In fact during the Uruguayan’s time in charge, only Liverpool have put less balls in to the box.

He seemed to be developing a style, but his strategy has changed with his recent formation switch. Previously he was playing 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3, but in his last two games, he has opted for three centre backs. This has seen him use much more aggressive wingbacks who are looking to cross for two centre forwards.

Since the switch in system, the Black Cats have gone from attempting 15 crosses per game to 25 per game, a massive leap. Marcos Alonso and Phil Bardsley are the main sources, along with Adam Johnson. He has strangely had to make do with a role from bench, but has scored and created both of their goals in this new system.

Whether Poyet sticks with his 3-4-1-2 formation or returns to the 4-3-3 of old will have a significant bearing on his strategy. The former set up will mean his side will look to cross, whereas the latter will see a lot more through balls for runners like Fabio Borini.

Sunderland conceding chances

In a system with three centre backs, the space to attack is usually out wide from the zones behind the wingbacks. This naturally draws the centre backs out in to spaces they don’t always want to be in.

With Sunderland it has been no different, but they have been particularly susceptible to being attacked down their right side. This part of the formation has Santiago Vergini on the outside of the centre back trio and Phil Bardsley as a very aggressive wingback.

Sunderland have been attacking down this side when going forward, which means Bardsley can often be caught up field. Coupled with this, Vergini is not the most positionally aware and looks like a defender still acclimatising to the Premier League.

Liverpool took advantage of this to earn the foul that brought them their first goal when Poyet used this three centre back formation at Anfield. The Reds then created a several chances down or from Sunderland’s right side in their 2-1 win.


Liverpool chances created against Sunderland.

Last Monday night, West Ham also capitalised from getting in to wide areas beyond the wingbacks, again particularly from the right side as Bardsley got caught forward.


West Ham chances created against Sunderland.

If Poyet again continues with his three centre back formation, then we need to play with plenty of width in order to stretch them out at the back.

In this 3-4-1-2- set up, the Uruguayan has gone with Lee Cattermole and Liam Bridcutt in front of the defence in order to congest the central area and screen his back three. This will see the middle become very crowded if we play narrow, so the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Sunderland need to focus on playing with as much width as possible.

Sunderland set pieces

One thing Sunderland have been and where they continue to be dangerous are at set pieces.

Gus Poyet obviously works hard on these on the training ground, as they spread the six-yard box extremely well. This gives them good coverage across this zone in order to win the first or second ball and gain control of any rebounds.

Earlier on in the season, Poyet was using five players to do this job with two at the near post, one in the middle and two at the far.


Sunderland have two at the near (1,2), one middle (3) and two at the far (4,5).

This is very reminiscent of the system used by Sam Allardyce at West Ham. However, since moving to a three centre back system, Poyet has additional height on the field to use at set pieces.

Now he uses six players across the six-yard box at corners and wide free kicks, having two at the near post, two in the middle and two at the far.

This was extremely potent against Liverpool, as Ki Sung-Yueng nodded home an Adam Johnson corner.


Sunderland now spread two players at the near post, middle and back.

John O’Shea also had a late chance with a header that he put wide after failing to twist in the air and get enough contact on the ball.

The Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Sunderland here will need to be aware of the Black Cats crowding the six-yard box at set pieces.

Spurs vs Sunderland overall

This match will be dictated by how aggressive Gus Poyet is going to be.

Recently he has moved to three centre backs with two destroyers in front of them in Bridcutt and Cattermole. This has seen them become very defensive and while stifling opponents for a while, they have had very little attacking impetus with this line-up after conceding.

The last two games that Gus Poyet has used this formation has only seen Sunderland look threatening after the introduction of Adam Johnson. With the Black Cats in desperate need of the points, Poyet may return to a back four and include the England man from the off.

A lot will be revealed in the team sheets here. A back three and Sunderland will be looking to cross through Phil Bardsley and Marcos Alonso. A back four and they will be looking to get Adam Johnson and most notably Fabio Borini in with through balls.

The Tottenham team news that we have Emmanuel Adebayor back available is good as he is excellent on crosses. We will need to stretch Sunderland’s back three if they indeed do play in this formation. Even if they switch to a back four, they are susceptible to teams that get in-behind in the full back zones.

Spurs vs Sunderland prediction: Spurs 2 Sunderland 1.

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6 Responses to Tottenham tactics: Spurs vs Sunderland preview (h)

  1. Lovatt 7th April 2014 at 5:06 pm #

    Sunderland fan here, just wanted to commend you on this. It’s absolutely spot-on; you rarely see analysis this accurate from someone in a different fan community. Websites like BBC Sport and Sky Sports don’t understand the Sunderland set-up anywhere near as well as this. Either way it’s going to be a fascinating game, and all I’d add is along with Johnson’s role, I’m interested in who we’re going to play up front. As you say, it could be one, it could be two, but Poyet could choose any from Borini, Wickham and Altidore, putting someone else out on the left if he picks four at the back. May the best team win!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th April 2014 at 5:19 pm #

      Thanks Lovatt. Poyet has actually impressed me with what he’s done, i think he may be panicking at the minute with the formation change and the tough run of fixtures you guys have.

  2. Paulo 8th April 2014 at 7:33 pm #

    It was great to see a good attacking performance and a comfortable win!
    Now it seems for sure Sherwood is leaving in the summer who do you favour coming in? Personally I’m not so keen on Mauricio Pochettino; I think it’s a bit too early to judge his performance at Southampton… the squad he inherited seems very strong and his signings were a bit dodgy last summer….. I tend to lean towards Louis Van Gaal… someone I don’t know a tonne about but could steady the ship in the short term..

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th April 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      Hey Paulo, for me its about the plans of the club. van Gaal is a solid choice if you want to go down the tried and trusted route of a coach with a CV, but he is getting on and how long he’d be around for is a concern – i could only see him doing 2 or 3 years max.

      If the plan is to develop a good team to grace the new stadium, whenever it’s built, then a younger coach with long term potential should be the way forward. This seemed to be the plan with AVB’s hiring, but i’m not sure if Levy will trust this again. De Boer would be a good choice, but i’m not sure he is ready to leave Ajax yet. Jurgen Klopp would be a dream move, but has no chance of happening. Pochettino is a coach i like, but similarly to you i’m not sure how to judge his time so far. He’s done well at Southampton in the short term, but it was not going so well for him in Spain, so he would be a punt for me.

      • Paulo 9th April 2014 at 9:51 pm #

        Options seem a bit limited at the moment… De Boer would be nice, but also can’t see it happening.

        I wish we could get Martinez but that simply isn’t going to happen… he’s too loyal and professional to walk out on Everton after only 1 year…

        • Chris 10th April 2014 at 8:21 pm #

          You have to wonder if Martinez or Rodgers would have had the season of rebuilding they probably would have needed at Spurs before the fans tired of them and Levy sacked them. In my opinion, Rodgers certainly made the right choice in turning down any opportunity with us (though I’m sure that’s pretty obvious to everyone by now!).

          I’d prefer a manager like either of them or perhaps Pochettino (dont know enough about him, but certainly Southampton play in the right way), but sadly I just don’t support the club that could handle a manager of that type.

          So here’s hoping for LVG, who won’t care about what the fans or players or Levy wants, will only be here short term and will be fun to follow. It’s a sad state of affairs, but that’s THFC right now.

          I struggle to like Liverpool – with their budget they should be doing well anyway, and Suarez makes a difference for them, like Bale did for us last year. But Everton, well, they’re a joy to watch, lower budget than us, and I hope they do well (bit of luck with Lukaku, sure, but even so).

          Back to Sunderland, and I haven’t watched all their games, but it seems hard to blame Poyet for their situation. They have issues all over the place.