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The home side didn’t help its cause by playing Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer as withdrawn wingers, crowding space in the middle for Michu, Leon Britton and Jonathan de Guzmán.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

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Ready for the midweek action in the Premier League? The games just keep coming thick and fast.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

Click play on the videos below for quick previews on each game complete with a score prediction from yours truly.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Swansea City 1-3 Man City (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Manchester United 4-1 Bournemouth – (Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

West Ham 0-2 Arsenal – (Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Brighton – (Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Southampton 1-2 Leicester City – (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Liverpool 2-1 West Brom – (Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Newcastle United 1-2 Everton (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Burnley 1-1 Stoke City – (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Huddersfield Town 1-1 Chelsea – (Tuesday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford (Tuesday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

NYCFC provides details of Belmont stadium proposal

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New details emerged Sunday of New York City FC’s stadium proposal at Belmont Park.

According to Newsday, NYCFC is proposing a 26,000-seat open-air stadium, a two-acre soccer facility, 400,000 square feet for retail and a 5.2 acre park. This proposal is going up against one from the New York Islanders, which calls for an ice hockey arena in addition to retail facilities.

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This same site was where the New York Cosmos made its bid for a stadium in 2013, but that bid went no where, with the proposal sitting under wraps in the New York State administration. Bids were re-opened recently and both NYCFC and the Islanders entered.

According to Front Row Soccer, the Belmont Park site, which is located on the Long Island-Queens, N.Y. border, is not the team’s dream stadium site. The team is still pursuing a site near its current home, Yankee Stadium, another site in the South Bronx, and a site in Flushing, Queens.

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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More midweek action is coming up in the Premier League. Let the festive fun continue.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Tuesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Burnley vs. Stoke City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Wednesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:45.m. ET: Southampton vs. Leicester City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Arsenal – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Brighton & Hove Albion – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

(more…)