Weekend Debrief: City’s lack of defensive depth to prove costly


Tactical football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) reviews the weekend, picking out a series of themes he believes we can exploit in future weeks. 

Weekend Debrief: 11th November 2019

Worrying signs at Sunderland

It has been a month since Jack Ross was sacked at Sunderland and replaced with Phil Parkinson, and the signs have been less than promising for the ex-Bolton manager.

A drab 1-1 draw with Gillingham in the FA Cup on Saturday was reminiscent of many of the games he’s had in charge, and the early indications aren’t promising.

Parkinson has a tendency to prefer direct football, and this has evidently been the case by his tactics employed early on. The full backs are expected to push forward and help provide width, whilst the central midfielders are asked to add energy, as opposed to too much creativity. As a result, the issue Parkinson currently has is that his side are not currently suited to his style, and it’s hard to see this improving quickly.

Will Grigg has had a frustrating spell since his move from Wigan, and he, as well as summer recruit Marc McNulty, don’t fit into the tactics Parkinson is employing. Target man Charlie Wyke’s injury hasn’t helped, but it hasn’t stopped Sunderland from favouring direct football in search of Grigg and McNulty, who don’t offer an aerial threat.

The pair often cut frustrated figures throughout the game, and mean Sunderland struggle to retain the ball in the final third. A lack of pace and movement from the Sunderland attack further isolates these players, allowing the centre backs of the opposition to step up and condense the play, stifling the creative threat of the midfielders and wide men furthermore.

As a result, Gillingham’s centre halves had a relatively comfortable afternoon on Saturday, and it was a similar story in defeat in the EFL Trophy to Leicester last Tuesday. Even when taking the lead in both games, the midfield was never able to take control of the game, and the lack of options on the ball for the central midfielders became quickly evident.

Linked to this is the other main issue the Black Cats have had this season, which as been in the full back areas, both in attack and defence. At right back, the dynamic, box-to-box option of Luke O’Nien has been missed, who excelled in this role last season.

Being used further forward, it has seen Connor McLaughlin start. His ability on the ball is inferior, and his lack of pace often restrains him from pushing forward and offering an outlet, and has seen sides target this area particularly well on the counter when he does.

At left back, youngster Denver Hume offers drive on the ball, but his decision making and final ball can often let him down, and his defensive positioning can lead to many worries. Laurens De Bock offers a better defensive option, but that comes at an expense it attacking areas, and this means the effectiveness of Aiden McGeady is reduced, as there is a lack of chances to create 2v1s, allowing the opposition to double up on the talented Irishman.

These defensive worries have seen the centre halves exposed and with a midfield two that can easily get overrun, it has been no surprise to see Sunderland leak goals. Improvements will be required if the Black Cats are to mount a promotion push, however if Parkinson is backed to mould a side in his tactical vain, it could see Sunderland kick on in the second half of the season.

From a betting perspective, I’d be approaching Sunderland with caution over the coming weeks, as they often go off a shorter price than they should, particularly at home, as an element of reputation will be factored into this.

However, if Parkinson is to get his January recruitment right, a promotion push in the second half of the season could be on the cards, and certainly worth keeping a close eye on come January.

City’s lack of defensive depth to prove costly

Super Sunday’s offering from Anfield saw Liverpool push on at the top of the Premier League by eight points in a well-deserved victory, and what stood out particularly was Jurgen Klopp’s ability to adapt in such a big game to nullify the threat of Manchester City.

Liverpool, all be it aided by the early goal, sat deep and invited on the pressure of Manchester City, looking to target the onrushing full backs of the Citizens excellently with the pace of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah on the break.

This worked a treat, allowing the low, driving switches of play to be utilised excellently, as showcased by the quick flowing move for the second goal.

The Citizens’ defensive woes were once again apparent, as the makeshift back four showed cracks almost immediately, as they were positioned too wide allowing spaces for the front three to exploit.

This was particularly apparent down the left, where Angelino was dragged too far wide as Raheem Sterling struggled from a defensive point of view to cope with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah, whilst Jordan Henderson was able to drift across as City’s decision to go 4-4-2 saw them overrun in midfield.

The game has thrown up interest regarding the Champions League winners market, as it currently highlighted the gulf in class defensively of both sides moving forward, as well as the relevant squad depth for big games. With City priced at 3/1 favourites, it is hard to give them any support, and if anything, strike as an option to lay.

With many a top side in Europe currently going through transition and struggling, there may not be a better opportunity than in recent years for Pep Guardiola’s side to end their European hoodoo, however with their defensive worries, it is hard to see the value.

Coming up against quick, pacey attackers has highlighted issues, and unless reinforcements are sort after in January at centre half, the unbalanced side may continue to struggle.

The shift of Fernandinho to centre back, coupled with the loss of Vincent Kompany and Aymeric Laporte from last season, means there is both a lack of aerial threat and a reduction in the composure at the side the back, as well as a real loss of leadership.

If they are to struggle offensively, as they did against Klopp’s side on Sunday, it is hard to see them shutting out the opposition, especially those so well set to counter such, and as PSG showed against Real Madrid earlier this season, they could pose a very similar threat.

In a market where PSG and Liverpool are both 6/1, the value definitely lies elsewhere, and given the squad depth and increased defensive solidity of both sides, the open, attacking City side may need to adapt in these heavyweight games moving forward.

Whether they currently have the defensive depth to do so is another question, and January recruitments are definitely needed, however it is certainly hard to justify their favouritism, especially when the fixtures add up post-Christmas.

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