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The home side didn’t help its cause by playing Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer as withdrawn wingers, crowding space in the middle for Michu, Leon Britton and Jonathan de Guzmán.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

WATCH: Neymar caught a bit offguard in first look at his wax figure

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 22:  Neymar of FC Barcelona celebrates aftr scoring Barcelona's 2nd goal during the Copa del Rey Final between Barcelona and Sevilla at Vicente Calderon Stadium    on May 22, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
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I remember the first time I saw the first of many life size wax replications of my body.

That is a sentence I am unlikely to ever utter, but Neymar is a different story.

[ MORE: USMNT-Ecuador preview | Klinsmann eyes semis ]

The 24-year-old Brazilian superstar was caught on camera witnessing his wax figure for the first time, and we can watch it thanks to FC Barcelona.

Look at this guy, looking at that guy. The most interesting part for me is his fascination with how well they did with his tattoos, which of course are easier to duplicate than, you know, a face:

Morris “completely respects” Klinsmann’s keeping him off USMNT roster

SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 20:  Seattle Sounders FC forward Jordan Morris speaks on stage during We Day at KeyArena on April 20, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for We Day)
Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for We Day
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Seattle Sounders striker and USMNT star-in-waiting Jordan Morris struck a mature note when asked about his exclusion from Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man roster for this summer’s Copa America Centenario.

Some will have considered the youngster a lock for the roster, with Morris already boasting rarefied air as a college player to become something close to a national team regular while still in school.

[ MORE: USMNT-Ecuador preview | Klinsmann eyes semis ]

But Klinsmann opted for in-form San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski, and it has become old hat for MLS players to gripe when their name is not called by the German boss (See: Benny Feilhaber, Brad Evans and Landon Donovan).

Don’t count Morris in that group. Of course the youngster doesn’t have the tenure to rally against the man who gave him his shot in the first place, but that hasn’t stopped others from acting entitled to a roster spot.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“[Klinsmann] told me not take it too hard and that there was a lot of competition,” Morris said. “I completely respect his decision. There were a lot of good forwards playing and they’re all playing really well. I wish those guys all the best. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch this summer.”

Morris can still end up on the roster through injury, and it’s easy to see him as the next name up should an attack-minded player take a knock. Stefan Frei told us last week that Morris is remarkably professional, and this is no exception.

The youngster did admit increased motivation from his omission, stating that “it gives you fuel to your fire to try and get back in the mix a little bit”. We have a feeling he won’t be out of that mix for long.

Copa America announces “clear bag policy” for security purposes

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Fans go through security lines outside University of Phoenix Stadium before the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The European Championship is not the only tournament with heightened security concerns this summer.

[ MORE: Klinsmann eyes Copa America semis ]

The Copa America Centenario will have a “clear bag policy” at the gates of its 10 American stadia, and is recommending that fans don’t bring any bags at all.

From a press release:

Bags that are not in compliance must be returned to the patron’s vehicle or checked at a designated bag check area located outside the stadium perimeter (if available).

The style and size of bags that will be allowed is described below:

  • Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12″ x 6″ x 12.”
  • One-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar).
  • Small clutch bags, approximately the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap, may be carried into the stadium along with one of the clear bag options.

USMNT-Ecuador preview: Lineup will give clues to Klinsmann’s intent

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 25:  Clint Dempsey #2 of the United States slides past Segundo Castillo #14 of Ecuador in an international freindly match at the Raymond James Stadium on March 25, 2007 in Tampa, Florida. USA defeated Equador 3-1. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
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Wednesday’s friendly could be a Copa America quarterfinal preview, as Ecuador and the United States tangle in Texas.

The Yanks’ goal of a deep tournament run could go through La Tricolor if one wins its group while the other finishes second. That would require either the U.S. topping Colombia or Ecuador finding a way over Brazil.

[ MORE: Klinsmann eyes Copa America semis ]

The two sides last met in Oct. 2014, with Mix Diskerud and Enner Valencia trading goals in New Jersey. The U.S. and Ecuador have an even 2-2-2 record all-time.

Ecuador has wins over Mexico, Argentina and Uruguay in the last year, but went winless in a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Espanyol striker Felipe Caicedo has been the side’s most dangerous attacker in recent action, scoring in four of six, while West Ham’s Enner Valencia join Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia and Swansea City’s Jefferson Montero as pivotal members of the attack. FC Dallas midfielder Carlos Gruezo is also on the roster.

La Tricolor has four defenders in camp with 36 or more caps, including Walter Ayovi (111). The Monterrey back will become the second most capped Ecuadorian with his next appearance for the national team.

[ MORE: Eyeing the USMNT’s friendlies ]

As for the United States, there are a number of directions Klinsmann can go to test his Best XI ahead of June’s tournament. And he’s not exactly tipping his hand, but did mention players in a Q&A with the US Soccer web site:

“We are excited about John Brooks proving now that he matured, that be became stronger. Christian Pulisic is coming through the Dortmund system in a Champions League team and breaking through, so we want him to confirm that and we give him all the help to do that. Darlington Nagbe, who became part of the National Team after waiting so many years for that opportunity. Bobby Wood, who broke out last year. DeAndre Yedlin who became a consistent starter in the Premier League, and so on and so on.”

Many eyes will be on Wood, who showed that rare quality of an American striker in form for both club and country with a strong performance against Puerto Rico. He’s the sort of player who could shake up Klinsmann’s plans in both selection and formation.

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29: Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States Men's National Team celebrates his first half goal against Guatemala with Steve Birnbaum #21 of the United States Men's National Team during the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Will Matt Besler or Steve Birnbaum get a look alongside John Brooks, as Geoff Cameron is widely considered to be the best center back in the bunch? Cameron/Brooks seems predestined given their seasons abroad.

Is Clint Dempsey seen as a difference maker for Klinsmann, especially now that Jozy Altidore is out, or will he truly have to compete for his place? The 33-year-old Texan rang up 9 goals for the U.S. last year, but has just two goals in 10 MLS matches for the struggling Sounders.

And how far advanced with Michael Bradley be? Jermaine Jones? Honestly, we’re nearly as excited for the lineup card as the match itself.

Those are answers we may get in the next two friendlies, before the real arrows start flying in the Copa America opener against Colombia on June 3. All we’ll say for Wednesday is our expectations are not a clean sheet for either side.