Jermain Defoe alone will not help Sunderland

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Depending on which paper you read, Jermain Defoe is at different stages of his proposed transfer from MLS side Toronto to Sunderland.

What’s becoming clear, though, is that the Wearside club are willing to line the former Tottenham forward’s pockets quite considerably in a bid to source the goals which will stave off relegation.

Superficially, this all sounds very sensible: Defoe has a proven record in English football and will provide Gus Poyet’s forward-line with something that it’s clearly missing.  Sunderland are the second-lowest scorers in the division behind Aston Villa and only seven players in the current squad have contributed a Premier League goal.

The cure for that, however, isn’t necessarily a high-priced forward.

Sunderland’s troubles seem to relate more to their inability to create chances than their failure to convert them.  Poyet’s preference this year has been for obdurate negativity and a relatively deep midfield, and that has come at the expense of his players’ ability to develop any kind of regular offensive traction in an opponent’s half.  50% of their goals this season have come from a set-piece (33%), the penalty-spot (11%) or an own-goal (6%), and that makes a damning statement about their inability to be a threat from open-play.

They break in a sporadic, indecisive way and, typically, whoever plays as the lone-forward in their formation spends long periods of game isolated and redundant - and slotting Jermain Defoe into that position is not going to help that.  Defoe exists in the last twenty-yards of the pitch and, while capable to an extent in the channels, he is is at his best when operating on the back-shoulder of a centre-back.  He has never, at any point in his career, been a viable targetman who can be relied upon to hold the ball up and bring less advanced players into the game around him.

The priority for Poyet this month has to be an advanced midfielder.  He desperately needs a centre-based player who can receive the ball in semi-attacking areas and use it intelligently to exploit the assets which do exist in the final-third.

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Sunderland’s shape is typically as per the above.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that system, but Poyet just doesn’t have the players to make it work - or, at least, he doesn’t if he wants to persist with a defensive emphasis.  Most frequently this season, Sebastian Larsson and Jordi Gomez have been used in the two advanced midfield slots with Adam Johnson playing from the right and Connor Wickham on the left.

That’s not really good enough.  There’s some talent in that group, but those four players are never going to be consistently effective in a Premier League environment and, as a result, whoever is used at forward will always be forced to exist off a very meagre supply.

Interestingly, there’s a very similar problem at Aston Villa.  Paul Lambert has a semi-decent defensive structure and his squad is full of players who can play restricting, high-percentage passing roles in deep-midfield, but it lacks any kind of guile or creativity further forward.

The result?  They rarely enjoy extended periods of possession in attacking areas, they move the ball in a formulaic, predictable way and, ultimately, they’re easy to defend against.

It’s pertinent to mention, though, that Lambert has added Valencia’s Carles Gil in the last few days, and that the Spaniard does possess the kind of playmaking attributes to theoretically address that issue.

Sunderland need to follow that example in the coming weeks, because Jermain Defoe alone is not the answer here.  This side need goals, but they need to create chances before they can think about converting them.

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2 Comments on "Jermain Defoe alone will not help Sunderland"

  1. Alvarez - Potentially not good enough for the premier league though

    Defoe is 32 on I imagine high wages on a 3.5 year deal really really poor strategy by the club desperate even

    I agree with you Seb save the money on Defoe’s wages for an attacking midfielder of quality

    Fletcher is good enough to play as the striker as long as he gets some service his conversion rate is quite impressive normally

  2. Luke Coleman | Jan 14, 2015 at 6:35 pm |

    I’d take issue with a couple of points - sure, the team doesn’t get forward enough, but that doesn’t automatically mean that the wide players in defense don’t attack; in fact I’d peg them very much as wing backs who get forward when they can and with Van Aanholt and Vergini filling those roles, the service is there. As a creative midfielder we’re yet to see what sort of player Alvarez is, and it could be that we don’t this season…a player we need to keep. Up front is where the problems lie. Johnson is inconsistent, frustratingly so. Giacherinni doesn’t get the run in the team I’d like to see, because Wickham is ploughing that furrow down the left. Fair play to him for signing an extension and making it clear that he’ll do whatever Poyet asks of him. I think he’d be a great hold-up player with Defoe, but it seems unlikely Gus will change his system to accommodate such a pairing. Fletcher is not the striker of two seasons ago, and we don’t need to talk about the disappointment of Altidore (I really think he could have been a contender…). Defoe probably represents a 15 goal a year return - enough to keep us up and moving forward. PS Who gives a flying fig about the money? If it’s within FFP, and doesn’t impact on other signings, it’s immaterial.

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