Cattermole The Key To A Sunderland Revival?

The first of two pieces from Rory Fallow this week. Here he addresses just how important it is that Sunderland keep possession and, when they do lose it, work hard to win it back. Too many loose touches and too little effort are causing problems for the Sunderland back four.

 

Even though I was watching the Manchester United game on a slightly blurry stream that, on occasion, liked to freeze and buffer (which gave me a surprisingly calm relief and a luxury I didn’t have at Bournemouth the week before) one thing was hugely obvious – we haven’t mastered the simple art of keeping the ball. I don’t mean this in a Barcelona style way of stringing 20 odd passes together either, I just mean it in the sense of not the giving the ball straight back to the opposition after we’ve just won it.

 

Until he had a lapse in concentration and let Juan Mata in to set up United’s first goal, Lee Cattermole was having his best game so far this season and looked much more like the player we had seen over the past two campaigns. According to whoscored.com Cattermole made 4 tackles and 6 interceptions and had a pass success rate of 92%, the best of any of Sunderland’s starting XI. The issue was that as soon as the ball was won, it was straight back into Manchester United’s hands with Sunderland players cheaply and weakly surrendering possession. Adam Johnson was the chief culprit of this, hence why he was hooked by Advocaat at half time and led the manager to say after the game that “Everything he (Johnson) touched was wrong.”

 

Dick Advocaat has made it clear that he wants us to play expansive attacking football but we’ve seen how detrimental it’s been to our back four and how they’ve been often left exposed. If Dick wants to persist with the formation of the last few games then I see no alternative that playing with two defensive minded “enforcers” as we did on Saturday. Despite how awful the lads have been this season, Yann M’Vila has arguably been the one shining light in the side. A player who rarely gives the ball away, wins the ball well and also has a good eye for a pass he should be able to compliment Cattermole quite well. This does of course depend on Cattermole hitting the form again we know he’s capable of but if he does then we have two midfielders capable of protecting the back four and rarely giving away the ball. With our wandering full backs and Jeremain Lens lack of tracking back, it becomes even more important that our two midfielders are thinking of defence before attack.

 

With this all in mind Advocaat would then have to think of which attacking players he goes for further up the pitch. Fabio Borini showed glimpses in the Manchester United game of being able to hold up the ball and press defenders in a way that we wouldn’t see from Jermain Defoe. Given Borini’s constant work ethic and ability to bring other players into play it’s not surprising that Advocaat wants to see him in the central role. If Sunderland were to play with two defensive minded midfielders it does offer Ola Toivonen the chance to push forward more and if he can harness his aerial ability like he did against Spurs (according to Squawka he won 60% of his aerial duels) it provides us with an additional method of keeping the ball. This leaves one option of either persisting with Adam Johnson out wide or giving Defoe another chance there. Whilst Defoe showed great determination in helping out the defensive cause last season, we can’t expect that every week and with Lens on the other side we can’t afford two wingers who aren’t tracking back and helping to win back possession.

 

Dick Advocaat has undoubtedly got Sunderland playing the attacking football that the fans were desperate to see after the departure of Gus Poyet but this has been done at the cost of leaking goals left, right and centre. Poyet’s football was often frustrating and sometimes not the prettiest but the defence was usually (I emphasise the word “usually”, I havent forgotten Southampton or Villa) dependable as the team kept possession and didn’t let them get exposed. It seems that Dick may need to look back to his predecessor on how he can achieve a balance in this Sunderland side and that could all start with Poyet’s number one player, Lee Cattermole and a hopeful return to form.