1-0 Victory at home against one of the 3 worst teams in the league (arguably the worst). Perhaps we under-performed given that a 4-0 score line would have been perfectly appropriate for all of our chances and the quality of our opponent. I’m a little more positive about the result. We blooded the new guys- Sissoko and Wanyama – with a shuffled version of our established team. We also got our first taste of Dembele in league play following his interseason 6-game ban. We lined up in the familiar 4-2-3-1 but it looked a little different:
- Son, Alli, Sissoko
- Dembele, Wanyama
- Vertonghen, Dier, Alderweirald, Walker
When we were at our peak last season, Rose and Walker played like wingers and were often the most advanced players down the field. That gave us plays over the top and long passes up the wing. Our attacking midfielders, Erikson, Alli, and Lamela were fluid in their positioning but worked to get 2 guys open for each pass through the midfield. Kane would make himself free for runs in the channel and would drop deep to play 1-2s with the AMs. Dembele, however, was the key. He would pick the ball up in midfield, shield it from opposing midfielders, and dribble into the attacking third. His ability to hold off defenders and draw in second and third defenders was instrumental in breaking down organized defenses. We frequently faced 8 or 9 behind the ball, and even bad teams can be difficult to break down with that many behind the ball. Dembele could draw 3 defenders from the middle of the pack and create lanes for the AMs to make runs toward the middle.
We saw a lesser version of that today. Vertonghen doesn’t venture as far upfield as Rose, and Sissoko was on a completely different page than everyone else. Our O played more like this:
We had 74% of the possession so there was a lot of time to watch our plays develop in the face of a team full of defenders. Sunderland were so pessimistic in their outlook that it was often 10 behind the ball. When we passed our way behind the D it was to Son or Walker on the wing. Crosses into the middle were frequent but mostly unsuccessful. With so many bodies packed in tight, there was no room for Kane or the other AMs to make runs to the near post. Our attacks up the middle were into the face of so many defenders that we ended up taking a lot of low percentage shots from outside the box. We had a couple of inside 1-2 runs but again faced confined spaces. The good news was that Sunderland was not threatening our goal but our constant offensive pressure meant they never got out of their defensive shape. Either ironically or predictably, one of our best chances came from a counter attack following their free kick in our half. We set off in numbers and the ball made it’s way to Son on the left who snapped a shot against the post. Around the hour mark, Walker carried the ball up the wing, pulled back and whipped in a looping cross to Alli at the back post. Alli and his defender collided and Alli’s soft header fell to the feet of the center back, who completely whiffed. The ball trickled to Kane who smashed it home.
Down 1-0 Sunderland had to come out of their shell. Their press was weak and ineffective and opened up a bunch of passing lanes. I think we would have capitalized on it but Walker, then Dier, and then Dembele came up lame holding their hamstrings. Walker played on with no obvious issues but Dier and Dembele came off. Perhaps it was dehydration from the Monaco match? Hopefully they came off out of precaution rather than due to actual injury. Kane, however, was harrying his defender and had his ankle roll over during a tackle. It looked pretty bad on replay and he didn’t even attempt to get to his feet and walk it off. It wasn’t a great way to end the match.
My only real complaint about the game was Sissoko. He has strength and speed, and a decent first touch, but I hate his passing instinct. Everyone else on the field looks for the quick, easy pass. Sissoko tends to turn his back to the field when he receives the ball. I don’t know why, but he did it whether open or under pressure. Maybe it’s unfamiliarity with the system or a bad day, but it was annoying. He was a black hole for the ball or a dead end for attacking movements. When the rest of the guys looked to play out wide and whip in crosses, he was cutting inside; when everyone was playing inside, he would take it out wide. I don’t remember Dembele passing to him once. He and Wanyama clustered on the right side of the field and while they took a few shots, they weren’t creating chances for anyone else. Hopefully Poche breaks him of this style.
So let’s focus on the good stuff. Here’s the FourFourTwo.com Dashboard from the game:
Not a single pair of Sunderland players made the most-passes list. That’s embarrassing for them. Also not on that list, Sissoko. Do note the 31 shots. This chart shows our xG total. Lots of shots from outside (courtesy @MC_of_A):
Or you can look at it like this:
That’s a lotta dimp! Here is a chart of our 30 crosses. Most were from Son who repeatedly schooled his defender and drew 3 yellow card fouls:
We haven’t seen a bombing like that since Dresden. The hard stats are 74% possession, 31 shots to 6, 14 corner kicks, 543 passes completed. Our pass map is crazy:
And here’s Man City’s pass map from their 4-0 drubbing of Bournemouth:
They look very similar except Bournemouth completed 100 more passes than Sunderland did. We were far more dominant even if the score line didn’t show it.
Player Ratings (-5 to +5)
Kane – (+3) Excellent in hold up play, creative on the dribble. Best game he’s played all season. Unlucky to not have a hat trick given his shot placement. Here’s his touch map (blue and green are good, red and orange are bad, light blue is a chance created, and yellow is his goal):
Son – (+4) Man of the Match. Creative and punishing on the left side. Tons of crosses, some good shots. Played well with Vertonghen, Dembele, and Alli.
Alli – (+2) Solid creator. Dangerous all game. Played well with Dembele, Son, and Kane.
Sissoko – (-1) Unproductive and selfish. Touch chart is indicative. Lots of missed tackles (orange x’s), possession turnovers (orange stars), and either passed backward or shot on goal:
Dembele – (+2) And here’s Dembele ignoring Sissoko:
Wanyama – (0) Given how much everyone else created and how little a defensive minded midfielder needed to do today, he could have been replaced by anyone and it wouldn’t have affected the outcome.
Vertonghen – (+2) Looked good going forward. Overlapping runs created some good chances for Son. Was responsible in his defensive requirements
Dier – (+1) One really shaky giveaway in front of goal almost cost us. Otherwise a solid game at centerback.
Alderweirald – (+2) My man was a rock at the back and was unlucky to have his header saved on the line following a corner kick.
Walker – (+3) Saved a point blank shot off the line. Was responsible for the cross that turned into Kane’s goal. Picked up Sissoko’s slack. Was a big part of our offensive drive.
Lloris (0) – made one or two saves but didn’t have to work hard. Wasn’t a liability, but didn’t do anything impressive.
Lamela – (+2) productive and snaky in his 20 minutes of playing time. Would have gotten a goal had Janssen not been selfish. Created a few chances for others. Just missed a good left food curler at the back post.
Davies (+0) was fine going forward but committed a few fouls in dangerous spots that weren’t called.
Janssen – (-1) we could have closed the game out 2-0. He and Lamela had a break away 2 on 1 and when the defender committed to Janssen at the top of the box a lay off pass to Lamela would have been an easy goal. Instead he skied it from a bad angle and distance. I appreciate his finisher’s mentality but that was stupid.
On Wednesday we play Gillingham in the League Cup. Hopefully we’ll hear that Dier, Dembele, and Walker are fine and just needed some fluids., and that Kane will be full strength when we go to CSKA in 10 days. I expect to see mostly subs against Gillingham.