1.Familiar Derby Woe
The Derby was thoroughly shite as usual. The Blues seem to find new ways to lose embarrassingly at Klanfield every year. Having lost to 10 men on more than one occasion and regularly ‘bottling it’ this time the Blues contrived to give their opponents a head start pre match in terms of selection. True, the side Moyes put out should have done better but a team already missing key men from the recent good run like Gibson and Donovan were further weakened with 6 more benched giving the initiative to Liverpool.
On the pitch there were 2 key reasons for the failure; poor ball retention and ineffective pressing. We had plenty of the ball and more of it in the RS half than vice versa but tellingly we made too many mistakes on the ball, particularly in the final third. The Blues were either dispossessed or made an error in possession 27 times compared to Liverpool’s 19. End product in the opposition final third is Pienaar’s major defect and whilst he did OK outside the opposition box he continually fluffed his lines when he approached Liverpool’s 18 yard line. In total the Blues made just 1 through ball – compare this with the RS who made 7 and you see the familiar woes of incision. The other key issue was that our pressing high up field wasn’t good enough as a unit. Selection seemed to favour ‘workers’ who could press eg Straq, Rodwell, Coleman rather than ball players such as Royston, Osman & Jelavic. Despite having grafters all over the park Liverpool frequently bypassed our pressure and either lofted balls over the top of our defence or through it into the acres of space we afforded them behind our back four.
2.Blues Line up
Of course, if we can topple Sunderland and get to Wembley few will care about what happened on Tuesday night. I’d be surprised if the team wasn’t the same one that beat Spurs last week, with Drenthe and Coleman probably swopping flanks. The alternative is to stick Ossie left side, Royston right and persevere with Rodwell centre mid, but I’d rather have Ossie central as his interchanging with Cahill last week was a feature of our attacking play.
O’Neill’s sides like width and using pace in counter attacking situations. He will be happy to not be in possession, invite teams onto them and then exploit the space in behind…with an emphasis on wide men whipping balls into the box.
In his first game in charge against Blackburn he put his cards well and truly on the table as his side attempted more crosses than any other side in a single prem game for 4 years, and 92% more than in their previous home game against Wigan, Steve Bruce’s last match in charge of the club. If we take a look at Sunderland’s two games this season against the league’s basement side Wigan the difference is clear. In the home game under the Aberdeen Angus headed Steve Bruce, the Mackems bossed the ball having 53% of possession and lost, compared to when O’Neill took his charges to the JJB and had just 37% but won 4-1. The new Sunderland also pressed less, making just 15 tackles in the away win compared to 30 in the home loss. The direct style is also evident with 20% of their passes long in the JJB win, a 4% increase on the game Bruce was boss.
Moyes record against O’Neill is poor – during his time at Villa O’Neil never lost in 8 league games against Moyes, however Moyes did triumph in an FA Cup 5th Round tie the year we made it to the final. Obviously, this is balanced by the fact that Moyes has never lost to Sunderland home or away in his 10 years in charge at L4, including an FA Cup win here a few years back.
4.How will Sunderland Lineup?
The Mackems have suspension woes with key midfield anchor Cattermole and playmaker Sessegnon both absent. On the flanks former Everton target James McLean has made a big impact since joining form Derry. He is something of an old school winger and like our own Seamus Coleman has great quality in the tackle and in dribbling. Unlike Coleman though, McClean can also put in a good cross. On the subject of crossing, only Leighton Baines (59) has played more successful crosses than Seb Larsson (56%) in the top flight with the Toffeeman having a marginally better success rate than his Sunderland counterpart (28% v 26%). Midfield wise, Colback and Gardner will more than likely occupy the central slots and may be joined by David Vaughan in a midfield trio if O’Neil decides to go like for like systems wise. Last time out against the RS they were very much 4-4-2 with Bendtner and Campbell upfront but away from home it’s usually been 5 in midfield.
Sunderland will be a tough nut to crack given their form and momentum. Defensively we are well equipped to deal with balls into our box and if we can keep our shape well to repel what Sunderland can throw at us I’d fancy us to get the goal that takes us through. 1-0 Blues.