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.
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?
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?