Mousa Dembele battles Didier Ndong during Sunderland 0-0 Spurs in the Premier League match at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland 0-0 Spurs: unable to open up the centre

Running in to a roadblock, we were unable to open up centre of the pitch as it finished Sunderland 0-0 Spurs in our Premier League clash.

In a real game of attrition, we were unable to grind out a result. Good chances were at a premium as Sunderland sought to block off the centre of the pitch and turn us in to a crossing side. It unfortunately worked as the game turned in to a drab draw and it finished Sunderland 0-0 Spurs at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland block off the centre

David Moyes intent from the opening whistle was clear. He set his side up in a very narrow 3-5-2 formation to take away the centre of the pitch. The three centre backs were close together, flanked tightly by the wingbacks. Ahead of them, he deployed a compact central midfield trio. Nothing or no one was going to get inside without being challenged or contested.

Sunderland kept two banks of three in the centre of the pitch during Sunderland 0-0 Spurs in the Premier League.

Sunderland kept two banks of three in the centre of the pitch.

The formation had one aim without the ball. To turn us in to a crossing team. Sunderland were content to deal with the balls in to the box with the height and sheer number of bodies that they had defending the penalty area.

Spurs struggle to get between the lines

We know that Mauricio Pochettino likes to get his central midfield trio between the lines so that they can open up teams through the middle. Christian Eriksen buzzes about in the pockets of space that open up. Dele Alli starts his runs in to the box from here. Son likes to charge in down the channels between the centre and full backs.

We struggled to create with no real space to do this because of Sunderland having at least six players centrally. Opportunities were thus few and far between.

Christian Eriksen tried two audacious little chip passes from rare moments when he was free between the lines. John O’Shea twice retreated and stretched out a long leg to disrupt the pass as it came down on the other side of the back five before Harry Kane could get there.

Chances to open up spaces on the counter attack were also very rare. Sunderland were hesitant to come forward and very quick to get back in to position. Didier Ndong had an excellent match making some timely recovery challenges. However, Jack Rodwell was lucky to still be on the field after scything down Mousa Dembele from behind. Rodwell only received a yellow card. Other players this season, such as Granit Xhaka against Swansea, have been given their marching orders for cynically stopping counter attacks.

Sunderland’s narrow set up saw them shuttle across the pitch from side-to-side. Moving the central midfield trio over and then beating them back saw our other half decent chance of the first half where we got between the lines. Good movement of the ball from the touchline beat Rodwell, Ndong and Larsson’s ability to get back in to position. This left Victor Wanyama to sting Vito Mannone’s palms with a long-range drive.

Shifting the central midfield trio creates space for Wanyama during Sunderland 0-0 Spurs at the Stadium of Light.

Shifting the central midfield trio creates space for Wanyama.

It was a rare moment when we opened them up, but Wanyama was still faced with bodies in his way as the three centre backs stayed tucked in. This was to be our problem.

Spurs forced to cross

Sunderland’s narrow set up forced us in to becoming a crossing team. This saw us play a number of balls in to the box ranging from high lofted crosses to low driven balls, pull backs and cut backs. We attempted a whopping 29 but completed just 4 as Sunderland dealt with pretty much everything we threw at them.

On top of that, Sunderland had numbers in the box to defend them to ensure there was no time or space. This saw them block 7 of our 14 shots at goal, including getting something on our best opportunities.

Dele Alli took down one cross, but saw his left-footed drive deflected over when faced with seven players between him and the goal.

Dele Alli confronted by a red and white wall during Sunderland 0-0 Spurs in the Premier League.

Dele Alli confronted by a red and white wall.

Kyle Walker also faced a red and white wall when he collected another cross that had been partially cleared. The on-rushing Javier Manquillo deflected his effort over the bar.

The following corner saw Victor Wanyama spurn our best chance of the game. The ball in was partially cleared to Son Heung-Min. He darted for the by-line and dug out a cross over nine Sunderland players to the vacant Wanyama. Victor, whose heading is very hit and miss, could not keep the ball down.

Wanyama sneaks in behind the crowd to head over during Sunderland 0-0 Spurs in the Premier League at the Stadium of Light.

Wanyama sneaks in behind the crowd to head over.

Sunderland early ball to Defoe

Sunderland’s tight shape, which tried to at least keep eight men behind the ball saw them have one, very effective, attacking outlet. Get Jermain Defoe in-behind from an early long pass.

It was quite successful in the first half. Defoe scampered clear, only to be denied by a combination of the recovering Toby Alderweireld and Victor Wanyama. Then he surprisingly out muscled Alderweireld to chase down another Rodwell punt in-behind. His perfect layoff to the excellently positioned Fabio Borini fortunately saw the Italian take a very loose touch and the opportunity was gone.

Just a minute later and Borini would collect the ball this time, but fluff the shot. Another long ball downfield for Defoe saw Eric Dier head clear. Borini picked up the loose ball and raced towards goal before shanking his shot straight at Michel Vorm.

Spurs subs

Mauricio Pochettino’s subs had swung the game against Wycombe at the weekend. Here his changes were made with good intentions, but they had little or limited effect.

Danny Rose, who was key to us getting forward in to crossing positions, had to go off injured. The less attack-minded Ben Davies replaced him and we regressed as a threat down this flank.

Seeing that we needed to bolster our efforts out wide, he introduced Moussa Sissoko on 73 minutes. Sissoko was supposed to get in to positions whereby he could get in down the flank to either play low or high crosses. However, he just looked ponderous and clumsy whenever he received the ball. His positioning was equally awkward as he often filled the spaces that Walker was bursting forward in to, stopping the full back from overlapping.

Vincent Janssen was then introduced to get more firepower on the field for any crosses we could get in. Janssen had a little over five minutes, no service and couldn’t influence the game, touching the ball just once.

Sunderland 0-0 Spurs overall

After the high of a last minute FA Cup win, this was a really flat performance. Sunderland played to shut us down in the middle of the pitch and it worked. We became a reluctant crossing side and didn’t get enough players in the box to compete with the sheer weight of numbers they had defending.

Interestingly Mauricio Pochettino switched back to a 4-2-3-1 for this game. In hindsight, a back three would have served us better here. Jermain Defoe and Fabio Borini were causing slight issues from the long balls looking for them. Without the ball, the pair made it difficult for Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld to play out from the back. A back three would have made it easier to play around them, but would’ve also got our full backs higher up the pitch from where they could cross. In the centre we could’ve gone with Kane and Janssen backed up by Dele Alli to get more targets in the box.

We’ve played some great football throughout this season and maybe Pep Guardiola’s comments about us being the best team in the league if you let us play were ringing in David Moyes’ ears. When the opposition comes to really frustrate us, we need to find ways to grind out a result.

Final score: Sunderland 0-0 Spurs.
MOTM: Mousa Dembele.

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14 Responses to Sunderland 0-0 Spurs: unable to open up the centre

  1. John Greenwood 1st February 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    Well, Mr Pochetino don’t keep on saying that we had over 70% possession and played better in the second half. The other week against Man City your team fail to have a shot against them in the first half. Last night your team only managed ONE
    in the first half. According to stats your team only had SEVEN hots all night.
    The game is of two halves so why can’t your international studded team produce something in the first half. What’s the point of having a Capt. If he can’t motivate his team after all that’s what they are supposed to do. You are on the line too so don’t make excuses.
    Try encouraging your stars to shoot from outside the box more you might get a rebound instead of trying to walk it in. Our team needs a player who can run at defenders and scare them. Plus another striker who can head a ball.
    While I’m at it get Eriksen to practice corners and free kicks or find somebody else to do the job.
    John Greenwood

    • BERNARD 1st February 2017 at 5:03 pm #


  2. Ilikespurs 1st February 2017 at 4:28 pm #

    Great post as always. I love Poch, but I think this loss is 100% on him. Starting with a defensive formation against a team that leaks goals and can’t score was baffling. Then NOT changing the formation until 5 minutes left in the game drove me crazy. He needed to go for the win, and he just allowed the game to peter out….so frustrating. Subs should have come on much sooner to try and change the game. And the short corners seemed to feed right into their hands-we needed to get the ball into the 6 yard box every chance we could to wreak a little havoc…..and Ericsson hasn’t scored from a free kick in 15 months, isn’t there someone else? Kane? Dier? Walker? We miss Lamela on so many levels….
    Finally, this game proves that we needed to bring in an experienced striker in the squad if we want to truly compete for trophies ( Jay Rodriguez would have been perfect). We have no threat off the bench, no game changer like every one of our top 6 competitors do ( Martial, Rooney, Sturridge, Welback, Giroud, Willian, etc. etc.) I think we get lulled into complacency because we get on a good run every year during the months when there’s a break from European football ( check out our record under Poch in Dec and Jan), and then when it restarts and we need to rotate it’s painfully clear that the club just isn’t deep enough to compete in multiple competitions. Do Poch and Levy already forget how dreadful we were in the Champions League against teams that we were supposed to beat? Poch stated at the time that we needed more talent to compete, so why the dead transfer window? We’re still a Harry Kane injury away from disaster….

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st February 2017 at 5:37 pm #

      Good points Ilikespurs. Not changing the system, especially say at half time when things were going slow and we had time to do so, wasn’t good. I do think the players have to shoulder some of the blame too as the usual energy and zip to our play wasn’t there, which is on them. As for Eriksen on free kicks, i’d like to see Dier given some chances and Kane too.

      I was surprised we didn’t bring in someone like Rodriguez. He offers something different running in from the left abd knows Poch’s system. He’d settle just as quickly as Wanyama did, which means he could be instantly put in the lineup rather than being gradually inserted over a few weeks or months as he learns it. Berahino was another, £12m for him seems like a punt worth taking when we were in for bids of around £20m last time.

      I did wonder whether we’d make a loan move for Rooney. His experience, and playing as a striker rather than off the front, would be great for our squad. He’d especially help guys like Janssen evolve. Sorting his wages etc would be an issue, although maybe Man Utd would’ve done a 50-50 deal whereby we split it with them, but i’d have liked us to have made some enquiries. Great back up, brings knowledge and a winning mentality, plus cover for Kane should the worst happen!

  3. Matt 1st February 2017 at 6:15 pm #

    Like you, I’m surprised we didn’t rapidly change to a 3. In fact I’m a bit surprised we didn’t start that way, I think we knew how Sunderland would play. I’m positive still, we have a resilient look but yes we do miss someone with that spark in these situations. Personality, I don’t think that’s Lamela. Decent player and hard worker but for me, we’ve looked stronger with him injured.

    Love that cheeky Rooney idea.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st February 2017 at 11:40 pm #

      I think that we missed Lamela’s energy last night. Often it seems to jump start the team. We were very flat and needed someone to give us a spark. Even if he just charged around like a loon, I think it would’ve unsettled Sunderland and given us some impetus.

  4. SonShine 1st February 2017 at 6:38 pm #

    You’re spot on. The 4231 played a big part in this draw. I wonder what a different result it will be if we went 3421/352 as it proved to be effective when we unlocked Tony Pulis’ setup. Dele and Eriksen could get free between the lines like they always craved for. This recent result means we’re still work in progress regardless of how far we have come. Maybe we miss Mason? ;)

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 1st February 2017 at 11:44 pm #

      Yes this result was a bit of a setback seeing everyone around us dropped points. Second is still excellent, but we could’ve just started to pressure Chelsea and with them perhaps looking over their shoulder, you never know what might happen.

      Not sure we miss Mason, love him, but think we’ve moved on to another level ;)

  5. Daudi 1st February 2017 at 6:52 pm #

    I’m reading frustration in all comments, I am too, nothing more to add. let’s just hope Poch learns and the next game will be better. The sub’s issue remains a mystery to me too, formations, earlier subbing helps the sub grow into the game, we can never understand the coaches thinking, we can’t tell them what to do either so we have to live with that. The positive is they didn’t score and make life even harder for us, as games of this ilk tend to pan out, plus it’s a point taken and still in the title race mix. Our players will of course be disappointed and will hopefully play the next game with more conviction.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd February 2017 at 12:15 am #

      Yes if Sunderland had scored we’d truly have had a difficult task to turn the game around.

  6. Chas 1st February 2017 at 7:10 pm #

    Why all this talk about strikers? Last week, Janssen earned – then scored- a penalty, had a header tipped over the bar and played a sublime 1-2 assist for Son’s winner. That was all in half a game.
    Poch then flaps his guns about how Janssen needs encouragement. So how does he go about doing that? Benches the poor bugger for 85 bloody minutes!
    He should have been on at half time for either Son or Eriksen, both of whom were total non-events. Son, in particular, had far too many “one touch too many” instances straight out of Lamela’s manual.
    Same old story, though. We revert to 4 at the back, Eriksen has a shocker and Spurs look less than ordinary. How he was on for the full game is a mystery to me.
    As is Poch’s thinking.
    Rather, the lack of it!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 2nd February 2017 at 12:18 am #

      Janssen did seem a good change to make at half time. Would’ve been nice to see how Sunderland’s defenders coped with his physical presence for at least 45 minutes.

      • YouShubes 3rd February 2017 at 10:43 am #

        Would like to see us play 2 upfront… Think the rose Injury changed things a lot…Davies for all that he is as defender does not provide enough attacking threat…I think in the summer Poch may look to correct this by bringing in Luke Shaw…

        Maybe Saturday was weighing on his mind as with only two subs left it does stones to seriously change the system

        With J Rod the issue I think would be his fitness and his age…we look as if we may take a hit on Sissokho who I think would be much better as the muscle who can play a bit as opposed to playing him as a winger..For me that he can play as winger is a bonus.. but I think he would be better in the double pivot as he is a big lump but he is mobile and can play a bit

        Would like to see Eriksen a bit deeper closer to Big Vic and Mousa, and maybe a loose 3 up front…

        Sonny as good as he is has never shown his ability to be as fluid in the front 4 as Lamela, Alli and Eriksen

        Give credit to Sunderland who for the 5th year in a row are playing for their PL survival and they will have games where they can find that extra gear esp when they have had 10 days to prepare for us….

        We played a skeleton side vs Wycombe but all those player on our bench had to be ready to play on Saturday…

        The fine margin that allowed Dele Alli to get onto a deflected cross and equalise against the Saints is what the EPL is ALL about

        Costa takes a better penalty and then there is talk about how we have fallen further behind in the race….

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 3rd February 2017 at 5:21 pm #

          Yes the Rose injury really unbalanced us. Who knows what might have happened had he stayed on the field. Two up top would’ve been a good idea and introducing Janssen earlier, say at haf time or at least on 60 minutes, would’ve still left Poch with one sub.

          I’m quite tempted by having the option of playing Sissoko in the pivot with Wanyama. I think his dribbles and physicality will be better deployed there. He is also an underrated passer so may benefit our attack as well.