After each game, Ian Porter offers fellow Sunderland fans his analysis at the Blackcats e-mail loop. Agree or disagree – some would say he’s spot-on about Mensah, utterly wrong about SuperKev – his views are sharp and well argued. Luckily, Ian has given Salut! Sunderland permission to reproduce them here from time to time …
There’s already been some debate on Turner v Mensah v winning team etc. These are the decisions that managers have to take & getting them right is what separates the top managers from the rest.
For me, it’s a no-brainer, when John Mensah’s fit, he’s the first name on the teamsheet – period. Assume we’d beaten Aston Villa without Darren Bent through injury, would Steve Bruce not pick him next week, I don’t think so?
Turner for me is a good squad player to have on the bench. His distribution & pace are non-existent. I do think though that whilst Bent’s still been working as hard as ever, his touch has deserted him, but more on that later.
We’re now hovering around the dizzy heights of Peter Reid’s heydays, but I can’t help thinking that we’re lucky to be doing so but also thinking we should be even higher ! We were lucky to get away with three points against Villa I think, and it took (another!) own goal to do it for us. We could quite easily have lost this one.
Our draws record says several things, that we’ve held our own against some of the “top” teams recently, which seems good, but it also says that we’ve played well defensively, worked hard, had lots of good possession, but most importantly have been pretty innocuous in front of goal. Whilst there’s many cries for Gyan to play, I think when he has come on & we’ve changed formation, we’ve started defending too deeply & ended up on our heels defending to hang on. I don’t think that’s down to Gyan per-se, more that the midfielders have been working so hard & are almost burned out, and suddenly have to work that much harder with one man less.
This is where I’m getting to now though, and why I think Bruce has his tactics wrong despite the recent unbeaten & good defensive run. First off, Mensah has to play when fit. We need to start with a 4-4-2 formation, not end the game with it. You go 4-5-1 when you’re hanging on. For me, it’s the 4-5-1 that’s ruining DB’s game at the moment. Physically, he’s not up to the lone striker role, but I think the biggest problem is that he’s not getting the instinctive chances in the box that he thrives upon, as he’s getting the ball outside the box & having to run alone with it. In honesty, Bent’s the same as Lineker & SoperKev, pretty useless outside the box. However, there’s more to the 4-5-1 formation that’s wrong as well I think.
If you’re playing that formation, then you have to have the pacy, goalscoring midfielders in the team to support the lone striker. In our case, Bruce’s giving that role primarily to Steed. As well as Malbranque’s playing, he’s never going to be a goalscorer, so I think he is part of our “problem”. When we go 4-4-2, it’s invariably around the 60 min mark when Steed burned out & needs to come off as well, so we need to make two subs at the same time.
Against Villa he was chasing shadows much of the 2nd half. However, in a 4-5-1 midfield, for me, it’s Welbeck that’s our biggest problem. First of all he’s not a midfielder, and I wouldn’t call him a goalscorer either. Ultimately though, I don’t think he’s actually very good. Why has Bruce let Colback leave again ? I’d have preferred to see him before Welbeck. But with our choice of midfielders, there’s no goals in any of them, again another reason why we must play 4-4-2.
Putting everything together, I’d like to see the following starting line up (with reserve options) when everyone is fit:
Onhua (bardo) Mensah(Turner) Bramble(Da Silva) Richardson(Da Silva/Bardo)
Elmo(Henderson) Catts(Riveros) Henderson(Riveros) Steed(Zenden/Richardson)
Bent (Welbeck) Gyan (Welbeck)
If we didn’t already know it, we’re short of choice up front, but we do have our record signing on the bench for some obscure reason ? Ultimately though, if we don’t start scoring goals from somewhere, our draws run is going to fizzle out & we’ll start going down the league. The only way I can see us scoring more though is to go 4-4-2, which ultimately will get the best out of Bent again.
However, to contradict myself, I’d start with 4-5-1 on Sunday. The Mags will be well fired up & come at us strongly in the 1st 20 mins I think. If we can weather that storm, then I’d change it at half time to 4-4-2 & go for the win. Catts v Barton is going to be interesting, probably down to who loses their head first ! Enrique is one of their biggest threats so I see Elmo’s running as being critical in both stopping him & keeping him pushed back. But ultimately though, the Mags game is route 1 to Carroll. If you stop the “supply” you stop Carroll, but equally, you need height to defend against him & a keeper that can come off his line & be prepared to be battered. I’ve total faith in Mignolet in this respect. I really fancy DB against their central defenders, but not if he’s up front alone.
A few points about yesterday’s game though. Mignolet was top man again. Onuha played much better, had a good game. ElTobe was much better as well, but still no wonderful crosses. Titus had possibly his “worst”, and most difficult game so far & was exposed a couple of times because he didn’t go for row Z. I just hop he is decisive & switched on next week as I’d feel really sorry for him if the clown turns up to concede against Shola of all people ! Henderson was a bit hot & cold I thought. Catts really deserves credit for changing his game since his misdemeanors. I thought he was excellent yesterday. Steed was a bit hot & cold, his crossing in particular was way off the mark at times, even his cross for the OG was poor & was nowhere near any of our players. Gyan looked to be starting to shape up well when he came on, SB must start playing him, and soon.