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The home side didn’t help its cause by playing Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer as withdrawn wingers, crowding space in the middle for Michu, Leon Britton and Jonathan de Guzmán.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

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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.

Can Leicester keep their stars? Will other teams replicate their success?

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Now that Leicester City have been crowned 2015-16 Premier League champions, this is only the start.

[ MORE: Mahrez to leave? ]

Plenty of questions are already swirling around about their future, who will stay this summer and how any other team can possibly repeat what they’ve achieved this season.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

In the latest edition of PST Extra yours truly, Joe Prince-Wright, dissects all of that and more as we look back at an incredible run to the title for the 5000-1 shots before the season began.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ]  

Hit play on the video above for your latest PST Extra fix, while you can see the full archive of videos by clicking on the link below.

[ ARCHIVE: Every PST Extra video ]

Leicester official reveals Vardy’s past parties: “He came to training drunk”

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Ah, so this brings a whole new meaning to the term “Vardy Party” doesn’t it?

[ MORE: Mahrez to leave? ]

Leicester City’s vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha has a story to tell when it comes to England international striker Jamie Vardy and his dramatic rise to stardom.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

Vardy, 29, burst onto the scene this season as Leicester’s leading goalscorer (22) and set a new Premier League record as he scored in 11-consecutive games. His goal, along with the trickery of Riyad Mahrez, won the Foxes the title.

It is true Vardy has a checkered past as the Sheffield native who was playing in non-league soccer four years ago has come a very long way in a very short space of time.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait? ]  

Speaking to a day magazine in his native Thailand in an interview released on Tuesday, Srivaddhanaprabha revealed the extend of Vardy’s problems as he struggled to settle in at Leicester in 2012 when he first arrived.

“He went straight from the bottom to the Championship, which eventually led him to start drinking booze every single day. We had no idea what to do. I didn’t even know about this until someone told me that he came to train while he was still drunk,” Srivaddhanaprabha said.

“So I went to talk to him myself, I asked ‘do you wish to end your career like this? Do you want to stay here like this? We’ll let your contract run out then release you. Don’t expect a better career path.’ He said he didn’t know what to do with his life. He’d never earned such a large amount of money. So I asked him ‘what’s your dream? How do you think your life should be? Just think carefully about what would you do for the club. I invested in you, do you have something in return?’”

“After that he simply quit drinking and started working hard in training. His physicality wasn’t as good as it is now. We know he had explosive acceleration, but we simply had no idea he could be this good. He’s adapting, working on fitness training, he’s turned into a new person. And that’s better.”

Well, I’m sure Claudio Ranieri didn’t mind Vardy hosting a party for the players as they celebrated the title win on Monday following Tottenham’s 2-2 draw at Chelsea.

The England international has had a fairy tale season but tales such as this show how different it could’ve been for him.

Transfer news: Renato to Man United; $50 million Batshuayi to West Ham

SEIXAL, PORTUGAL - MARCH 17:  Benfica«s midfielder Renato Sanches during the UEFA Youth League Quarter Final between SL Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk at Caixa Futebol Campus on March 17, 2015 in Seixal, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images for UEFA)
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Benfica teenager Renato Sanches could cost Manchester United $60 million this summer and the Portuguese youngster is already preparing for his move.

[ MORE: Mourinho to wait? ]

According to Record in Portugal, Sanches is “prepared and excited” about a move to United and knows a deal is being discussed about a move this summer. It is believed the deal could cost in excess of $80 million when all is said and done.

The 18-year-old box-to-box midfielder is one of the hottest properties on the planet and despite Louis Van Gaal‘s struggling to get into the UEFA Champions League for next season, it still won’t stop them splashing some serious cash on Sanches. Plus, it worked out pretty well for United the last time they signed a teenager from Portugal… (ahem, Cristiano Ronaldo).


Another big money move, and a surprising one at that, could see West Ham United move for Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi.

The Guardian believes that the Hammers have put in a bid in excess of $50 million for the Marseille striker who has scored 16 Ligue 1 goals this season. He is 22-years-old and it is believed Slaven Bilic wanted to sign him in January but was told he wouldn’t be available until the summer.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ]  

With the 2016 European Championships coming up, Batshuayi should be included in Marc Wilmots’ 23-man Belgian squad but will face competition to get into the team from the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Divock Origi and Christian Benteke. Like the aforementioned trio, Batshuayi is a powerful striker who can hold the ball up but is also able to get in-behind opposition defenses.

West Ham have enjoyed great success in plucking Dimitri Payet from Marseille for $15 million last summer but they will likely face competition from Juventus, Roma, Borussia Dortmund and others for the Belgian’s signature.


The Daily Mail claims that new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has earmarked Gonzalo Higuain as his main transfer target this summer.

Higuain, 28, has been in fine form for Napoli this season, scoring 34 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions. Per the report, the Argentine striker is said to be concerned of playing second fiddle to Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge. However, if Costa is moved on with lucrative offers from China reportedly lined up, then Higuain could provide the goals to kick off Conte’s reign in west London.

The former Real Madrid striker has scored 223 goals in 451 career games and has 25 goals in 52 games for Argentina. It is clear Conte wants to stamp his authority on this team and with Costa scoring just 11 times this season, getting in a goal-machine will be the biggest target for the new Chelsea boss. Higuain will cost Chelsea over $60 million.

Riyad Mahrez has “50/50” chance of staying at Leicester

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Riyad Mahrez‘s chances of staying at Leicester City have been rated at 50/50.

The Algerian winger has been crowned the PFA Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season as his 17 goals and 11 assists inspired Leicester to win the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

However, the man who the Foxes signed from Le Havre in January 2014 for just $800,000 is now being linked with a $45 million move to the likes of Barcelona, Tottenham, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain among several other elite European teams.

Despite previously stating that he was happy at Leicester, his agent (Kamel Bengougam) is singing from a different hymn sheet as he spoke to the Guardian.

“Yes of course there is a possibility. When you have been playing the way Riyad has this season it is bound to attract attention. He is very happy with Leicester and of course it has been a fantastic season. They will play in the Champions League next year as well so he would be happy to stay.

“But at his age if the opportunity comes to play for a big team then we would have to think about it. I’d say it’s 50/50 at the moment whether he stays or goes.”

His agent also added that they have interest “from the UK and overseas” and would “see what develops over the next few weeks” as the season comes to a close.

Mahrez is 25 years old and is about to enter the prime of his career following years of battling his way through the French lower leagues and has burst onto the scene this season as an integral part of Leicester’s success.

[ MORE: Mourinho forced to wait?

The Algerian international winger is bound to have suitors and his ability to bamboozle defenses and score stunning goals with his supreme composure has reportedly seen Barcelona scout him constantly over the past few months.

Leicester doesn’t need to sell players and are financially set. However, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has already said that if players want to go, they can leave but has warned them they could be bit-parts at bigger clubs.

They could well be the case with Mahrez but in reality, is he ever going to have a season like this again? Should he and his agent cash in while they can?