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Football Focus, Swansea-Sunderland: Black Cats making woeful defense a habit

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source:  Swansea City ran rampant over Sunderland on Saturday, scoring four goals in the second half to win, 4-0. The stark contrast between first and second periods showcased the Black Cats’ troubles in the back half.

Sunderland started brightly and nearly took the lead in the 13th minute, but Steven Fletcher could not put home a volley on a corner kick despite being unmarked. Especially in the first half, Sunderland strangled the midfield, at times playing with five players in the middle, taking away Swansea’s strong area.

The home side didn’t help its cause by playing Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer as withdrawn wingers, crowding space in the middle for Michu, Leon Britton and Jonathan de Guzmán.

Despite being out-possessed all match, the first half made Sunderland look like it had a chance to steal at least a point on the road. However, it all fell apart in the second half.

Saturday marked Gus Poyet’s first match as manager, and if the Uruguayan hopes to keep his new side in the Premier League beyond this season, he will have to shore up the back line and stop the constant flow of goals into the Black Cats’ net.

Bright first half

On defense, teams will normally draw two lines: a line of confrontation and a line of resistance. The line of confrontation is where a team will begin putting pressure on the ball, and it usually starts at about the midfield line to allow for compactness in defense.

The line of restraint is the point beyond which a team will not allow its opponent to pass. That line is much lower, usually 25 yards from goal or so, and it denotes the spot where delaying and keeping shape are no longer the concern, but winning the ball is everything.

All match at Swansea, Sunderland maintained a low defensive starting position. In the first half, the Black Cats drew their line of confrontation around midfield, but at times moved it higher, depending on the situation. The line of resistance stayed about 22 yards out, at the top of the “D” (the arc on top of the penalty area).


They also maintained proper numbers behind the ball and a proper defensive shape in their back four and midfield banks. They remained compact enough to make ball movement difficult, but not so compact as to negate counter-attacking opportunities and chances to win the ball high up the field.

(Chalkboards courtesy of FourFourTwo Stats Zone)

Rarely should teams defend with more than one or two players extra (for example, five or six should be able to defend four) for the same reason. In the example above, Sunderland keeps eight players around the ball to defend Swansea’s seven in attack.

That changed drastically in the second half, allowing Swansea to maintain pressure for 45 minutes.

Painful second half

Because of Sunderland’s willingness to defend higher up the field in the first half, it rarely got pinned into its own end. However, comparing the location and frequency of interceptions between the first and second halves provides some idea of how that changed after the break.

Swansea possessed the ball through the middle more easily, and players turned and ran at goal in ways they could not in the first half. The reason for the radical change was dropping the line of confrontation, whether consciously or unconsciously, well into the Sunderland half for long periods of the half.


In this instance, Sunderland drops its bank of defensive and midfield players on top of its own 18-yard box, and the team has no discernible shape. Also, eight players are back to defend four attackers. Right from the kickoff, it was all hands on deck, hoping to hang on for the scoreless draw.

This screenshot is taken in the moments before Swansea took a two-goal lead. The space above the two deep lines of defensive players is open, where Michu (No. 3) is at this moment — close to the spot from which de Guzmán hits the goal.

Possession teams need to be put under pressure and made uncomfortable. Parking the bus only gives them more space to operate and combine to penetrate. Most of the Sunderland defenders backed off from the ball, putting too little immediate pressure on attackers to create any level of discomfort.

Corner kicks provide no respite

Two of Sunderland’s conceded goals were own goals off corner kicks, and they were nearly identical plays. It may have seemed coincidental at first, but a closer comparison reveals a pattern.

When defending corner kicks, most teams will put a player on the front post (some put one on the back post as well, but it’s a less dangerous space) and one in the near-post space about six yards off the goal line. The post defender is there to clear shots off the line, while the player in space is responsible for balls driven into the near side of the box, which is the most difficult spot for goalkeepers to cover.


When Sunderland sets up to defend both corners that end up in the goal, it has a man in the near-post space (red circles), but nobody on the front post itself (empty green circles). A free defender (yellow circle) is in the middle of the six-yard box as well, and some teams will station more than just one zonal defender in that area.

The rest are responsible for finding a man and marking him, contesting aerial balls and clearing the danger.


On both Sunderland own goals, Swansea attackers get into dangerous areas and cause scrambling defensive reactions. Because they are unable to track their marks, defenders end up running toward the goal to get goal-side of attackers.

The ball ends up in the back of the net despite defenders making contact first. Look at the spot where both balls cross the line: exactly where a front-post defender would be stationed. After one near-post goal, most teams would place a defender in that spot, but Sunderland does not. Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood has to organize his team more effectively.

Grim overall numbers

An inability to cope with pressure from other teams and a propensity to drop into a shell has led to an abysmal minus-15 goal difference overall for Sunderland, with little difference whether the game is at home (minus-6) or on the road (minus-9).

Falling deep into their half hasn’t allowed the Black Cats to attack, scoring just three goals at the Stadium of Light and two away from home. In turn, that has led to frustration for United States international Jozy Altidore, who continues to score for his country while remaining goalless in club play.

Sunderland’s defensive issues have progressively worsened over the last three seasons. If the situation does not reverse soon, the porous defense will be to blame for the club’s eventual relegation.

WATCH: Red Bulls academy product scores 4 goals in 4:20 for Marist

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Quickfire goals are nothing new in American college soccer, but this is bonkers.

Marist sophomore Cameron Harr now leads the nation in scoring after the New York Red Bulls Academy product scored four goals on Thursday.

Oh, and those four goals came in four minutes and 20 seconds. That’s high-powered output.

[ MORE: Atleti accepts January transfer ban ]

The Red Foxes hammered Manhattan 5-0 on Wednesday evening, with Harr scoring a beautiful opener before tapping in a second and then adding a pair of penalties — within 44 seconds (!!) — to complete his haul.

Harr’s 15 goals have him one ahead of Florida Gulf Coast’s Albert Ruiz, who coincidentally scored three goals in 3:19 earlier this month!

MLS Playoff Picture: How high, low can every playoff hopeful finish?

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates a goal against the D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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Didn’t the 2016 MLS season just start? What do you mean it’s October, and the season started in March?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

As difficult as it is to believe, First Kick was indeed nearly eight months ago, which means this is it. Sunday’s slate of 10 simultaneous finales (4 p.m. ET — full coverage right here on PST) will signal the end of the line for eight sides; the end of the regular season, and the start of the real journey, for 12 others.

Following last weekend’s penultimate round of games, we covered the scenarios for teams yet to clinch a playoff berth. Today, we’ll focus on seeding — how high and how low each of the 14 remaining playoff hopefuls can finish.

Eastern Conference

New York Red Bulls (54 points, 15 wins, +15 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish as low as 2nd.

New York City FC (51 points, 14 wins, +2 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish as low as 3rd. To finish 1st, NYCFC need to win vs. Columbus Crew SC, and RBNY lose vs. Philadelphia Union, doing so by combined margins that make up 13 goals in the goal differential column.

Toronto FC (50 points, 13 wins, +11 GD) — Can finish as high as 2nd; can finish no lower than 3rd. To finish 2nd, TFC need to win vs. Chicago Fire, and NYCFC lose or draw vs. CLB. To finish 2nd, TFC could also draw vs. CHI, and NYCFC lose vs. CLB.

D.C. United (46 points, 11 wins, +8 GD) — Can finish no higher than 4th; can finish as low as 5th. To finish 4th, DCU need to win vs. Orlando City SC. To finish 4th, DCU could also draw or lose vs. ORL, and Montreal Impact draw or lose vs. New England Revolution.

Montreal Impact (45 points, 11 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 6th. To finish 4th, MTL need to win vs. NE, and DCU draw or lose vs. ORL.

Philadelphia Union (42 points, 11 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish as high as 5th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, PHI need to win vs. RBNY, and MTL lose vs. NE.

New England Revolution (39 points, 10 wins, -13 GD) — Can finish as high as 6th. To finish 6th, NE need to win vs. MTL, and PHI lose vs. RBNY, doing so by combined margins that make up 12 goals in the goal differential column.

Western Conference

FC Dallas (59 points, 17 wins, +10 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish as low as 2nd. To finish 1st FCD need to win or draw vs. LA Galaxy. To finish 1st, FCD could also lose vs. LA, and Colorado Rapids draw or lose vs. Houston Dynamo.

Colorado Rapids (57 points, 15 wins, +7 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish no lower than 2nd. To finish 1st, COL need to win vs. HOU, and FCD lose vs. LA.

LA Galaxy (51 points, 12 wins, +15 GD) — Can finish no higher and no lower than 3rd.

Real Salt Lake (46 points, 12 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish no higher than 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, RSL need to win vs. SEA. To finish 4th, RSL could also draw vs. SEA, and Sporting Kansas City draw or lose vs. San Jose Earthquakes, and Portland Timbers draw or lose vs. Vancouver Whitecaps.

Seattle Sounders (45 points, 13 wins, 0 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, SEA need to win vs. RSL.

Sporting Kansas City (44 points, 12 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, SKC need to win vs. SJ, and RSL and SEA draw with one another, and maintain a goal differential advantage over POR if POR win vs. VAN.

Portland Timbers (44 points, 12 wins, -2 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, POR need to win vs. VAN, and RSL and SEA draw with one another, and overcome a goal differential disadvantage over SKC if SKC win vs. SJ.

FOLLOW LIVE: Man United, Southampton face Fenerbahce, Inter in UEL

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 17:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates with Anthony Martial as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth at Old Trafford on May 17, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It’s the most … wonderful day … of the week — Thursday afternoon Europa League.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Thursday’s Europa League action ]

Following Monday’s mostly dull affair at Anfield, Manchester United return home to Old Trafford, where they’ll host Fenerbahce (3:05 p.m. ET) for the first time since 2004. Man United (3 points) enter matchday no. 3 as the third-place side in Group A, a single point off the pace of Thursday’s opponent for the top spot. United captain Wayne Rooney will be desperately hoping (one can only assume) to start a game for the first time in a month (Sept. 21, versus Northampton Town — just 66 minutes played in four games since).

Two hours before kickoff at the Theater of Dreams, Southampton are set to visit another of the world’s famous venues, the San Siro, as they take on Inter Milan for the first time ever. Claude Puel‘s side (4 points) currently sits atop Group K, ahead of Hapoel Beer Sheva and on goal differential. Inter, on the other hand, are in search of their first point in the group stage.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge ]


Hit the link up top to following along with all the afternoon’s action in Europe’s “other” competition. For a firsthand look at the scene in Milan, PST’s lead writer and editor, Joe Prince-Wright, is tweeting up a storm outside and inside the San Siro.

Atletico Madrid accepts January transfer ban amid ongoing appeal

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 02:  Atletico de Madrid manager Diego Pablo Simeone reacts during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and Atletico de Madrid at Mestalla Stadium on October 02, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) Atletico Madrid has accepted it will not sign players in January while it fights a FIFA transfer ban at sport’s highest court.

[ MORE: Ozil won’t sign new Arsenal contract until Wenger does the same ]

FIFA and Atletico jointly say in a statement they agreed a timetable for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to give a final ruling on the Spanish club’s appeal by next June.

Atletico could have sought to freeze its one-year ban pending the verdict but has “waived its right” to try, the statement says.

Still, Atletico “completely maintains its position that the transfer ban is unjustified.”

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge ]

FIFA imposed one-year sanctions on Atletico and city rival Real Madrid for signing underage players in violation of transfer rules.

During an appeal to FIFA in the offseason, Atletico signed several players including France forward Kevin Gameiro and Argentina midfielder Nicolas Gaitan.