An excellent performance at the Stadium of Light rounded off a great week, as it finished Sunderland 1 Spurs 2 in our Premier League clash.
Despite having to ring the changes in the back four, we controlled large chunks of this game. The switch in personnel meant that we heavily attacked down the right, but both of our goals were created from the left.
Without Vlad Chiriches and Jan Vertonghen, Andre Villas-Boas had to radically change our back four. It didn’t really matter though, as Etienne Capoue came in and looked extremely at home alongside Michael Dawson. At left back, Kyle Naughton was solid in defence without really offering too much going forward.
With Naughton being predominantly right-footed, this means that it is difficult for him to get outside on the overlap. Thus with Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon combining brilliantly once again on the right side, this had the effect of skewing our attack heavily to this flank.
However, on the defensive side, Naughton and Nacer Chadli were excellent at pushing the Mackems back.
They both got up the field and were able to jam their opponents early, meaning that Sunderland struggled to threaten down this side. With Walker and Lennon going forward, the tackles and interceptions on their side were much deeper with them having to recover more ground.
In the midfield, Moussa Dembele was really controlling this zone with his ability to recover the ball and then use his driving dribbles to move forward. Paulinho was alongside him, but with Dembele playing more defensively, he was bursting forward to arrive later in the box. This ploy seems to suit the Brazilian more than when he is deployed further forward.
Ahead of them, Lewis Holtby was doing an excellent job at buzzing around behind Jermain Defoe. After scoring against Fulham, the German fancied his chances of following that up here and fired a number of long-range efforts. It was his passing that was more on-point and caught the eye though.
I’ve often talked about how Lewis Holtby plays incisive vertical through balls. His peach of a pass to Defoe should have been rewarded with a finish.
As for Defoe himself, he had another purposeful game up front. As at Fulham, he was dropping off to both flanks to link the play, then getting back in to the centre to get on the end of short crosses and cut backs. He hit both posts from a header and a neat flick, whilst also dragging Holtby’s exquisite pass wide. Defoe is above all a finisher and surprisingly he failed to do that here despite several good opportunities.
Sunderland sits back
Whereas Paulo Di Canio tried to get his Sunderland side to pressure the opposition, Gus Poyet prefers his team to drop off and play on the counter. Despite going very aggressive with two strikers, Poyet again instructed his team to drop off and that really set the tone for the match until they went behind.
When they did have the ball going forward, the Black Cats were looking to feed it in to Jozy Altidore. I talked in the Tottenham tactics for Sunderland vs Spurs about how they like play it early to him, so that he can use his giant frame to swivel and work passes to those around.
Here Altidore was doing just that. In a rare first half attack, he took a pass in to feet and laid it off to Jack Colback running past him. Colback burst through but fired well wide, however, the intent was there.
The American then did the same on Sunderland’s goal.
He took a pass in to feet, turned and moved it out wide to full back Ondrej Celustka in space. The Czech Republic man then hit a cross that should have been handled by Hugo Lloris. The Frenchman’s flap fell straight to Adam Johnson who rifled home.
Dembele controls the midfield
Moussa Dembele was really the key to much of our dominance of this game.
Without Sandro, he was saddled with more defensive responsibility, but he was more than up to the task of winning the ball back in our half.
He was often regaining possession in our inside left channel and then driving forward through this same space as he ghosted past Sunderland’s midfield.
It was only fitting that the Belgian using his strength and big frame to dribble in an advanced area of the pitch scored our go-ahead goal.
Paulinho hits the box
Whereas Moussa Dembele was driving forward from deep with the ball, Paulinho was making surging runs of his own with it.
By arriving in the box later in the attack, the Brazilian was proving difficult to pick up and put on one of his best displays so far in the Premier League.
Andre Villas-Boas has deployed him in a couple of positions, most recently off the striker. Here he looked much more comfortable coming on to the ball from deeper as the attack was already developing. This saw him receive a number of passes in the penalty area that allowed him to get first time shots away.
Sunderland failed to pick him up from Nacer Chadli’s knockdown for our first goal. But he also put a header from an Andros Townsend cross wide, as he had several good opportunities to add to his strike.
We don’t encounter many teams that use grabbing and holding in an effort to slow the opposition down.
Tony Pulis’s sides are the main ones that come to mind, but here there were a number of occasions when Sunderland players were penalised for pulling back. Colback, Larsson and Altidore were some of the players that conceded fouls in this way, whereas Wes Brown’s bear hug on Michael Dawson in the penalty area went unpunished.
Our equaliser, when it arrived, came from a free kick. However, the foul for the set piece was awarded when Jack Colback was pulling back Lewis Holtby.
Attack the right, score from the left
Although we were attacking down the right flank, both our goals were created from the left.
Jack Colback conceded the free kick from which we equalised out on the right, but Nacer Chadli, knocked the cross back across goal from the left.
To take the lead, Moussa Dembele, who had been executing his dribble-drives in much deeper areas, went forward on the attack as Paulinho sat in.
Getting the ball now in an advanced position on the left, he matched up on the unfortunate Colback once more and overpowered him with both strength and pace. John O’Shea deflected in his cross, but Dembele’s driving runs with the ball had been a feature all afternoon.
As looked at in the Tottenham tactics for Sunderland vs Spurs, the best way to attack the Black Cats is to get in-behind and square the ball. Although one was from a free kick, both our goals came from doing just that. But it wasn’t just goals, we also created a host of other chances from getting in-behind in wide areas to cut the ball back. This included Defoe hitting both posts and Paulinho heading wide.
Sunderland did then have to come out and respond. Their best chance came from Kyle Walker this time being pulled back by Steven Fletcher. This allowed the Sunderland man to get the ball to Emanuele Giaccherini. Hugo Lloris saved his shot and Michael Dawson cleared the rebound.
Sunderland 1 Spurs 2 conclusions
This was another excellent performance away from home to come back from a goal down. For those who have been following throughout the season, it was also another correct score prediction after the Fulham vs Spurs 1-2 forecast in midweek.
Andre Villas-Boas said “it was a great performance by the team” and “It was just a pity it wasn’t by more” which you have to agree with.
Moussa Dembele and Paulinho controlled the game from midfield, with Kyle Walker and Aaron Lennon also combining well as a one-two punch down the right.
The key was getting in-behind in the wide areas to cut short balls back across goal. Chadli’s header and Dembele’s driving run did just that.
Final score: Sunderland 1 Spurs 2.