Sunderland 2-2 Everton: great attacking game

November 23, 2010

The starting line-ups

A topsy-turvy game that ended with a result that reflects the balance of play.

Sunderland made two changes from last weekend’s shock win at Stamford Bridge: Darren Bent replaced Asamoah Gyan and Anton Ferdinand replaced Titus Bramble in straight swaps.

There were no surprises in the Everton side – it was the usual 4-4-1-1 with Johnny Heitinga in midfield alongside Mikel Arteta. Phil Neville and Seamus Coleman continued in tandem down the right.

First and foremost, this was a very good game. Both came out and played good passing football, looked to attack, and the game was open and attractive throughout.

Everton left side

As has been obvious so often this season, Everton’s left side is both their biggest strength going forward, and their biggest weakness defensively. Steven Pienaar’s tendency to drift inside allows Leighton Baines forward on the overlap, something he did to great effect early on, crossing for a trademark Tim Cahill header. His advance down the left also created Everton’s second best chance of the first half (another Cahill header) when he first won and then took a corner from the left. Eventually, he got a second assist too – since his pass to Mikel Arteta resulted in the Spaniard finishing via a deflection late on.

It’s interesting that Sunderland chose to switch their wingers for this game – that is, compared to the Chelsea game where Kieran Richardson played on the right, and Bolo Zenden on the left. In that game, Ashley Cole was pinpointed as such a big danger from full-back that Richardson was given a man-marking role, tracking Cole up and down the line all game. Perhaps Baines’ attacking qualities mean that he was deserving of similar treatment.

However, Pienaar also tends to neglect his defensive duties, and so Sunderland’s first goal coming down that side was not a huge surprise. Zenden did very well on the right to take the ball past Pienaar, then get a ball in towards Danny Welbeck, who slid in the cross.

It is also notable that Welbeck’s second goal – an excellent flicked header from Richardson’s cross – also came from the Everton left, although since this was following a corner it’s perhaps harsh to include this as further criticism of the players on that side of the pitch.

The Chalkboard below shows that Baines got forward to good effect, but Pienaar didn’t offer him much defensive protection.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Sunderland pressing

Like last week against Chelsea, Sunderland pressed Everton vigorously in midfield, which disrupted the away side’s passing game. Sunderland have a young, energetic side and this style of play suits them without the ball. There was also more variation between their strikers than last week – one of them, usually Welbeck, would drop into midfield out of possession, picking up one of Everton’s midfielders, often Mikel Arteta. Arteta wasn’t a particularly big influence on the game, despite his late goal, and misplaced more passes than usual.

However, it also meant that Jordan Henderson was more concerned with closing down the opposition than performing well on the ball, and he had a quiet game.

Welbeck on form

The game’s best player was Welbeck, who scored two well-taken goals, played his tactical role nicely, and also showed good link-up play throughout the game, completing 24 from 26 passes, below. The debate about Sunderland is whether Gyan and Bent will be able to play together, but at the moment Welbeck should be part of that discussion too, especially since he is capable of playing on the flank, playing in an out-and-out striking role (as against Chelsea) and playing just off a main striker here.

by Guardian Chalkboards

The key to the openness of the game, however, was that both sides played to their own strengths, and that respect it wasn’t a fascinating ‘tactical’ battle. One exception to this was that Zenden tracked Baines much better in the second half, possibly after being asked to play deeper by Steve Bruce.

Everton went 4-4-2 late on, bringing on Yakubu and Jermaine Beckford – Everton did get their equaliser and so credit should to go Moyes for putting on an extra attacker, although the goal did not stem directly from the change in shape – indeed if anything, Arteta should have been playing in a deeper role, since Heitinga had departed.


The left side remains the big talking point from Everton’s point of view. It might be worth David Moyes shifting his midfield two, so that the more defensive central midfielder is to the left, to give that extra bit of protection to Baines. The right side, with Coleman covering Neville, is much more secure.

Sunderland look better when playing this high pressing game in the centre of midfield. They are a very young side, so playing an energetic style of football suits them, and winning the ball high up the pitch and constructing quick mini-counter-attacks seems to favour their forwards too.

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