Who would have thought after the Everton debacle that 3-5-2 could be so successful for us? It was executed perfectly against Palace and that was mainly down to having the correct personnel for the system.
It has already been spoken about at length by us here at Wise Men Say about how well the three centre halves performed, how solid Billy Jones was and how Patrick Van Aanholt did the opposite of his usual self by being decent defensively but was poor going forward. What Sam Allardyce must surely focus on now though, is keeping the consistency in our back line which has regularly been chopped and changed all season, something which you feel has had a major impact in our lack of clean sheets this campaign.
There are plenty of good examples of average teams playing well defensively through sheer consistency; having players who are used to playing together and know the rhythms of each others play. In the 2009/10 season, Birmingham City managed to achieve a ninth placed finish with a distinctly average squad (apart for Seb Larsson of course). The centre half pairing of Scott Dann (snigger) and Roger Johnson were instrumental for The Blues as they went on an unbeaten run that started with a win against, you’ve guessed it, Sunderland on 24th October and lasted until they suffered a 3-0 loss away to eventual league winners, Chelsea, in early January.
We can even look to our neighbours up the road and note how they managed to finish 5th with a defence that had Steven Taylor at the heart of it. The mags, annoyingly, didn’t lose until 19th November when they travelled to Manchester City. Like Birmingham had done two seasons previously, Newcastle didn’t have to make a defensive alteration until well into the season which aided them massively in grinding out results.
What both sides had in their favour over those seasons is a lack of defensive injuries, something which we haven’t had the luxury of this season. John O’Shea limped off against Newcastle and Younes Kaboul has been in and out of the side since early on in the campaign. But with Kaboul starting to look fitter and more up to speed and O’Shea not usually being one to be injured during his time here, Allardyce will be enthusiastic about finally being able to achieve some that selection consistency of our own.
Going into December with some tough away games, it’s going to be vital that all three of our main centre halves are as in tune with each other as they looked against Palace.
With regards to Stoke on Saturday, I would like to see much of the same and see us go with 3-5-2 again. Unless there has been some injuries that have been kept quiet we should be able to go with the same defenders, except for the suspended Billy Jones who is likely to be replaced by Deandre Yedlin. Stephen Fletcher and Jermain Defoe should retain their places after good displays against Palace but there is still some intrigue over who will make up the midfield three.
After a little dip in form, Yann M’Vila looked back to his usual self in the previous outing and Lee Cattermole was probably our unsung hero of the night. Seb Larsson looked a little off the pace despite his pressing and energy in the opening twenty minutes. This creates an opening for Allardyce to think of being a little more adventurous and perhaps recall Ola Toivonen or Jordi Gomez. But if it’s energy and creativity that the manager is after he could go really bold and hand Duncan Watmore his second start for Sunderland. Watmore would chase everything for us in the middle of the park and is an option for us going forward on the break. With Cattermole and M’Vila there to keep him in check as well, it could be a decent surprise element for the Potters to contend with.
Sunderland managers of the past usually like to go with teams that no one would have guessed but this weekend I’m ok with being a little bit predictable.