Story of a Match: Sunderland
Back to back wins. It’s the stuff Premier League dreams are made of, no? A glorious night at Carrow Road ended slightly more nervy than Sunderland deserved, but Norwich stood tall to pick up back to back 2-1 wins. So, how on earth did we do that?
This match is actually a lot simpler than some others. A quick look at stats has Sunderland edging us out on territory, having the majority of possession and more shots – and yet they looked toothless. So how were we more effective with less of the ball? We had a gameplan.
Above are two passing heatmaps: one from yesterday where we played a 4-2-3-1 shape with wingers, and one from Wigan where we played largely with a diamond. While the percentage differences may look negligible, this translates to dozens of passes originating from different areas of the pitch, different players being put under pressure and attacks building in different ways. Against Wigan you can see plenty of the play coming straight through the middle with the wings used to no special degree. Compare the same area against Sunderland and we have much less possession in the attacking centre of the pitch (where Wes would typically be). This is despite Wes having a stormer of a game. He was seen as the dangerman by Sunderland who tried to push him back, but at the expense of our wide players. In contrast to the Wigan game, much more of our play started down the wings, as did both goals…
Simple stuff. A neat one-two set off Bennett for the first, while a storming Russell Martin run instigated the cross for the second. While the first goal was at the expense of Larsson primarily, both Sunderland fullbacks were put under pressure through a designed gameplan. Richardson is, first and foremost, not a defender – it was always going to be the case to target him. On the other side, John O’Shea is a good player but suffered from spending a lot of his time helping out the completely useless Elmohammedy. By getting so far up the pitch, Tierney and Pilkington were able to slot in behind him repeatedly. When they were able to get onto the ball, their passing was erratic…
Between them they managed to incomplete a quite impressive 55 balls last night, mostly long ones. This lack of support from their respective wingers meant they were trying to hit long balls up to Bendtner which were just not paying off. There was a comfort about Norwich in this situation as they were easily able to deal with the long ball – Russell Martin again superb at CB and Leon Barnett putting in a man of the match performance, absolutely dominant and on the end of everything. Sunderland were repeatedly resorting to an aerial assault on Norwich as they were proving to be blunt with their passing.
The two charts above could be from the same player. In both cases, Bolton and Sunderland were relying on a central midfielder to be their metronome, to be the presence that keeps things ticking over. However, both players were so uncreative, passing the ball from side to side and with no incision, that they kept playing in front of the back for. Like Reo-Coker last week, Vaughan didn’t pass the ball into the Norwich box on one occasion, instead keeping things simple. The Norwich defence will take that all day. Rather than being forced to turn, rather than setting a striker off and making Leon or Russell face his own goal, they were able to head away the long balls and keep tight on the strikers. Ruddy made one first half save, but was otherwise untroubled by Sessegnon’s erratic shooting and with Bendtner dropping deep so frequently, the defence had a relatively untroubled night.
Until the 86th minute, when we backed off and Sunderland hit in a long ranger. But the team stood up strong and saw out the last few minutes without major worry, and recorded a hugely valuable win. Throughout the early stages of this season, and in last, we’ve seen that Lambert has tactical nous. Whether it’s targeting players, countering the strengths of opponents or more, he can pick a gameplan. He doesn’t always get it right, no one does. But his success rate is good enough that, if he keeps it up, he’ll keep us up.