Tottenham tactics: Sunderland vs Spurs

After an excellent battling victory against Fulham, Saturday sees our next Premier League fixture at the Stadium of Light for Sunderland vs Spurs.

Like Fulham, the Black Cats have also changed manager mid-season and have a new-look under the guidance of Gus Poyet. So, what can we look out for and what should be the Tottenham tactics for Sunderland vs Spurs this time?

Sunderland set up and style

Gus Poyet has a very different philosophy to previous manager Paulo Di Canio.

Under the Italian, Sunderland were a team that pressed the opposition without the ball, then looked to move it quickly in to crossing situations when in possession.

In complete contrast, Poyet likes his team to drop off and sit deeper against the opposition. He sets them up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with a player screening the back four.

He commands that his wide players are narrow and that when they have the ball they hold on to it and control possession, tempo and shy away from crossing. Sunderland were the sixth highest crossers of the ball for Di Canio, under Poyet, only Newcastle attempt fewer.

Down the left side, any width comes from the full backs. Andrea Dossena overlaps Fabio Borini and is the main supply of any balls in to the box. Over on the right, Phil Bardsley operates in tandem with Emanuele Giaccherini. The Italian holds his width more than Borini and opts for lower-driven balls in to the area, but also is a threat to slide passes through the inside channels.

In the middle of the park, Poyet operates with a man in front of the back four. This is usually Ki Sung-Yueng who is not only able to make tackles, but also moves the ball forward well, usually looking for his full backs heading up the pitch.

Looking to sit deep and play on the counter, Poyet often deploys another ball winner in Jack Colback just ahead of Ki in an attempt to stifle and control the midfield zone. With those two attempting to break up play, he uses a passer in Sebastien Larsson to move the ball through this area.

Up top, he usually deploys Steven Fletcher, but also has Jozy Altidore to choose from. Both are tall players who can hold the ball up to bring their team mates in to play. However, Fletcher is very good in the air and a real danger to score with his head, whereas Altidore is much more of a threat with the ball in to his feet. The American uses his body well to hold off defenders, swivel and fire.

The Sunderland left

The left side of the Sunderland team is usually where a lot of the danger comes from going forward.

Gus Poyet likes the wide player in this system to move inside so the full back can overlap. This means that when the ball is on this side, he can either spring the full back or move infield and look to thread a through ball. When play is on the other side, he can attempt to ghost in to the box looking to score.

Sunderland under Poyet are not big crossers of the ball, but any balls in to the box usually come from Andrea Dossena on this side. The Italian likes to get up the line and put the ball in early as he showed against Aston Villa and Chelsea.


Andrea Dossena passes played against Chelsea and Aston Villa.

Dossena has been in and out of the team with injury this season, but on occasion, Phil Bardsley has switched over from right back to fill the void. Bardsley is less likely to overlap Emanuele Giaccherini when he plays on the right, but down the left he was also tasked with getting forward. Just as he showed on his goal in Sunderland’s 1-0 victory at home to Man City.

The Tottenham tactics for Sunderland vs Spurs should see us look to shut down the Black Cats’ left side. On Wednesday, we faced another full back that likes to get forward in John Arne Riise, as Alex Kacaniklic drifted in field ahead of him. The switch to move Aaron Lennon to that side mid-match was an excellent ploy to push the Norwegian and the Swedish international back. Riise was enjoying space with Erik Lamela playing narrow, but Lennon holding his position and hugging the touchline gave them both more to think about.

How Sunderland create chances

The Black Cats create their chances depending on who the striker is.

When Jozy Altidore is in the line-up, Sunderland usually go through the middle, looking to use his power on the turn.


Sunderland chances created against Chelsea.

His goal midweek against Chelsea, although scored from the breakdown of a free kick, kind of typified what his game is all about, strength and power.

He is a big hold-up man who can shrug defenders off in the Victor Anichebe mould – a player who gave us trouble in Spurs 2 Everton 2 at the Lane last season.

Steven Fletcher is much better in the air and this was kind of the reason why Sunderland signed him for Martin O’Neill. Fletcher lead the Premier League in headed goals whilst he was with Wolves and so seemed the perfect option for Adam Johnson and James McClean to swing crosses in for.

Since then, McClean has been let go to Wigan, whilst Johnson has been dropped to the bench for Sunderland’s last two Premier League matches.

Fletcher has just one goal in seven matches playing for Gus Poyet – a header from an Adam Johnson cross against Newcastle.

Although decent with his feet, with Sunderland’s lack of crossing, Fletcher has been starved of service. Away at Aston Villa, Sunderland should have come away with the three points, but did look to at least generate some chances from wide on the left side.


Sunderland chances created against Aston Villa.

Fletcher has been the preferred choice for Poyet, but it’s not like the new possession based style is playing to his strengths. His only other goal this season came under the reign of Paulo Di Canio – a header away at Crystal Palace.

The Tottenham tactics for Sunderland vs Spurs should beware his aerial prowess on any crosses. But note that the Black Cats under Poyet are creating the fewest chances in the Premier League.

Four of Sunderland’s six goals for their new Uruguayan boss have arrived from set pieces, an area where they are very strong.

Sunderland set pieces

Sunderland are extremely strong at corners where they can get their centre backs up, but they also do a good job of positioning themselves to cover the penalty area.

A typical Sunderland corner will usually see them start out in a crowd at the edge of the box. Once the ball is ready to be delivered, they split with two men coming to the near post, one staying in the middle and two at the back stick.


Sunderland cover the box with five men to score against Chelsea.

This is a very Sam Allardyce approach to covering across the zones in the penalty area in order to try and get a man to any knockdowns or loose balls first.

This creates shots, but also keeps the ball in dangerous locations, as Sunderland showed on both goals from corners against Chelsea.


Sunderland score again versus Chelsea.

The Tottenham tactics for Sunderland vs Spurs need to see us be extremely switched on at corners. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a repeat of the zonal approach that Andre Villas-Boas trialled earlier in the season.

How Sunderland concede chances

There are two ways to get chances against Sunderland. The first is to get round the full backs and pull the ball back. The second is to strike from distance.

The former method is quite achievable with them pushing their full backs on. The latter comes about when their defence is able to retreat and they are able to get set with Ki Sung-Yueng screening them.


Chelsea and Man City create chances from getting in-behind (1) or are forced to take shots from outside (2).

In the time that Gus Poyet has been in charge, Sunderland have forced the most shots of any team in the Premier League from outside the box. This is due to Ki Sung-Yeung being in front of the back four.

What is not good for us is that we like to take an extremely high amount of our shots from distance. So, we can’t fall in to this trap against a team that is looking to encourage this.

Chelsea were able to get in-behind as Sunderland were forced to come out as they were playing catch-up. Man City were kept at arms length with Sunderland sat in deep defending a one-goal lead.

Whoever grabs the first goal in Sunderland vs Spurs this Saturday will be crucial to how the game is played out.

Sunderland vs Spurs outlook

Sunderland away isn’t the easiest of trips and the team news that Jan Vertonghen is out won’t help matters. However, we have won two of our last three visits to the Stadium of Light, including last season, so AVB will be confident.

Gus Poyet will be setting his side up to play on the counter and we will have to spend much of the game trying to break them down. What we can’t do is get lured in to taking shots from range, as this is how their team is set up to defend.

Sunderland are most dangerous from set pieces and the first goal will be vital to how this game pans out. If they get it, then we could be in for a long afternoon of probing their sitting defence. If we get it, then it could be another open game.

Sunderland vs Spurs prediction: Sunderland 1 Spurs 2.

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6 Responses to Tottenham tactics: Sunderland vs Spurs

  1. Frazzler 6th December 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    What a remarkably comprehensive report!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 6th December 2013 at 6:59 pm #

      Thanks, be sure to follow on Twitter or Facebook for more throughout the season.

  2. Anthony berry 6th December 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    Great report. I hope AVB get’s a copy lol.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th December 2013 at 3:14 pm #

      Haha, left it on his desk at 9am sharp!

  3. Tales 7th December 2013 at 12:02 am #

    Chiriches: “Left side? Chancellor Mark, left side is our speciality”


    (Not worried a bit about this game)

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 7th December 2013 at 3:14 pm #

      I like your confidence Tales! :)