Luke’s World: how Sunderland could line up with or without Sessegnon

Luke Harvey
ponders the team formations available to MON subject to the signings we hope he’s about to make …

Twitter attracts a lot of derision.

Looking at some of the “trending topics”, as they’re known, can be a good indication as to why that is the case. But in the right hands with the right knowledge it can be a phenomenally useful piece of equipment and over the past week has reminded me why I put so much faith in it.

The problem with being a self-confessed football obsessive is that you find it very difficult to switch off from the sport in general.

When the Premier League season ends in mid to late May many people see that as job done until August, unless a major international tournament may be of interest. Others may cast a glance at the sultry skill and expansive games played in South America, but even as a Sunderland fan you’re never too far from the next match.

So as I melted in 40+ heat in Cyprus, shifting uncomfortably and sweating all over, I wondered if it was the muggy humidity causing my restlessness or the impending football match; the Peace Cup was about to begin and I was in a country where finding a way to watch the match was about as likely as someone coaxing me into swimming with sharks.

So step forward – and thank you – Twitter and all the Sunderland AFC Twitterers, or Twittees, or Tweeps. Whatever the collective noun may be I managed to keep up to speed with both matches against Seongnam and Groningen, and for that I‘m grateful.

From the match reports I followed it seems a few things became clear; the youth players benefited from such a rare and amazing experience, Connor Wickham showed that when fully fit and more experienced he can no doubt become a great striker and finally, if we wish to progress, it may be necessary that the constrictive shackles of the 4-4-2, so common under Bruce (the 4-6-0 aside), are loosened and that we embrace 4-3-3 as experimented with in South Korea.

Luke rips the shirt from Bardo's back

Formations in general are quite a divisive subject and I think it would be fair to say that the older fans often hark back to the day of the rigid 4-4-2, a big man and a little man up front with wingers with pace and skill in abundance and the middle of the pitch reserved for the clashes and thunderous tackles. It would be folly to suggest that this is the case from all older fans, much in the same way it would be folly to suggest that all younger fans want to see the latest 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 hybrid they recall seeing a month or so ago.

How would the demands for this 4-3-3 formation be met?

One scenario:

Wickham, or an equivalent player with the ability to spearhead the attack, whith James McClean and Fraizer Campbell providing width on either side. Then the three central midfielders are left to be contested: between our tough tackling captain Lee Cattermole – as good as any name to feature on the team sheet every time he’s fit – with alongside him the composed, ball-playing Jack Colback and Craig Gardner adding late bursts into the box as a deep attacking threat.

Then it really begs just one question: where do Sessegnon (and Larsson) go?

It would be unwise to suggest Martin O’Neill would sacrifice a team’s benefits for the sake of one player, but it would surely also be unwise to contemplate a team the same as the one that finished last season but without Sessegnon or Bendtner in it, regardless of opinions on the Dane.

I’m not beginning to suggest that anyone who wants this 4-3-3 formation, where they claimed we played our best football, is also urging it at the expense of Sessegnon but it raises thoughts as to where the Benin playmaker should feature. He’s obviously our most talented player and our reliance on him last season was very obvious. So it might be wise to give him what he wants, that area of the pitch just behind the striker, in between the opposition’s defence and midfield where he can receive the ball to his feet, get his head up and work magic.

It would also be wise to point out that Fraizer Campbell is not a right winger – and like Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt of Liverpool before him – it can be sometimes dangerous, sometimes rewarding to convert a recognised striker into a hard working wide player. Sebastian Larsson would be the natural right winger but his speed and stamina have seen better days.

So just how exactly do you solve a problem like Sunderland’s formation? I’m all for O’Neill experimenting with new tactics. The old fashioned 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 we have used of old is slowly becoming redundant and it may be worth us getting off that ship before it sinks. That said, SAFC may be struggling to bring in players of sufficient skill to play anything but a rigid and counter attacking formation.

Put me down as one who would like to see us play a 4-3-3, even a 4-2-3-1 as has become more common in recent years, but also put me down as expecting us to start the season with a 4-4-1-1 formation familiar from the back end of last season.

But what of Salut! Sunderland’s many knowledgeable readers? How do we find the correct, delicate balance between accommodating our best player – assuming we can keep him – but giving out team its best chance of picking up wins?

6 thoughts on “Luke’s World: how Sunderland could line up with or without Sessegnon”

  1. The thing about systems is that it depends who you have available, and who you are playing against. That is why versatile players are so useful. The great managers tend to have a basic philosophy, but recognise that sometimes you need to adapt to circumstances. I do think too much is made of systems – football is basically a very simple game of attack and defence, and I feel that it is sometimes in danger of over-complication.That said, there are clear examples of a particular style of play being very effective, at least for a time. The sweeper idea in the sixties, Wimbledon and Watford, with their long-ball Ramsey’s tactic of doing away with conventional wingers in England’s only world cup success.
    For a playing philosophy to take root, the manager has to be given time, and the fans have to be supportive. Good examples of this are Man U and Arsenal. This implies that the system has to be successful. If it isn’t the fans rapidly cool on the idea [ as at Arsenal recently ]
    I am confident that Martin O’Neill knows exactly what he wants to do, but I do believe that he must be given time to get the players he needs, and to instill the attitude and culture that will bring long awaited success to Sunderland.

  2. Luke says “I think it would be fair to say that the older fans often hark back to the day of the rigid 4-4-2”.

    Me I hark back to the W M formation and for those of you too young it is basically a 3 4 3 with three defenders two defensive and two attacking midfielders, two wingers and a centre forward. So in effect it is a 5 4 1 without the ball and a 3 2 5 with it, the two attacking midfielders (inside forwards) filling in the space behind the striker and between the wingers, looking for goals.The two half backs or (holding midfielders) get back to plug the gaps in defence and stay in front of the back three whilst in posession.

    With our current squad that would be something like


    O’Shea Brown Cuellar

    Cattermole Colback

    Vaughan Sessgnon

    Richardson Campbell McClean

    But it also I think highlights the fact that the current squad is lacking depth. Perhaps Wickham could play the CF role but I’m not convinced with what I’ve seen so far.

    Then I want to see real leather casies that leave an imprint of the laces when headed, black footy boots and fans with rattles.

    But what I really want to see this season is a desire for the team to get forward. I’m not convinced that looking at a team that defends deep and breaks quickly is how I’d like to think my season card money will be rewarded. I may change my tune if we are in the top six but if all we can realistically hope for is somewhere between 7th and 16th then I’d rather be entertained.

  3. Haha by central midfield I mean that role behind. Having a centre forward hold the ball up, and McClean, Sess and a pacey right winger running at defences would be a mouthwatering proposition. As said before, away from home the shackles would have to be fastened and Sess would probably move out wide or even up top. I still think he’ll sign a central midfielder with height and a big physical presence.

  4. I agree, but I’d be loathe to have Sessegnon line up as an actual centre midfielder. Give him that space between the opponents defence and midfield as I made mention in my piece to give him the time to pick a pass. The Xavi role as it is for Barcelona.

    That said a 4-2-3-1 would mean Cattermole and Colback as the anchors (the 2 part), which I’d be happy enough with. If you take the German 4-2-3-1 formation as standard they would take the Schweinsteiger and Khedira roles, Colback is good enough for us to get forward now and again but Cattermole would have to remain further back, so it wouldn’t be an actual pivot like the conventional 4-2-3-1 uses.

    That said Sessegnon would fit the Ozil role in behind a striker (as it stands Wickham in the Gomez role) and that would leave McClean and Larsson/Campbell to take the Podolski and Muller roles.

    Obviously they aren’t literal translations for those players as the standards are much different but using them as a base. Of course, it isn’t that simple for us as the attacking wide players would need to be covered by Bardsley/Cuellar/Richardson/maybe Warnock, and whether they’re good enough to pull it off with the wingers more attacking than defending.

    Once again I’m starting to ramble about formations.

  5. I knew it wasn’t just me who questioned Larsson’s place. I think it’s going ot be this 451/433 with a new centre forward as the focal point. I remain convinced he will sign right winger and probably another central midfielder if he can.

    Sessegnon can be employed in central midfield as the attacking option with two sitting midfielders behind so when we attack it’s more like a 4231 formation. Away from home, and against strong opposition that would be adapted and offensive players will miss out.

    That’s how it’s going in my head anyway.

    • With that line up Sessegnon can also be pushed up to centre forward to make it 442 if need be. We have flexibilty of keeping the same players and adapting to 451, 433, 442 and 4231 withut having to ring the changes and all depending on the ay the game is progressing and how the opposition are playing.

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