Saturday 13th December 2014
Stadium of Light
Sunderland vs West Ham United
Before this season began, there were many people who felt that West Ham and Sunderland would be scrapping in the same section of the league throughout this season. In fact, in the 'West Ham til I Die' user prediction game, the average prediction for West Ham was 10th, and 12th for Sunderland.
It's fair to say, the season hasn't quite gone like that so far.
West Ham sit in one of the power seats of the division, among the esteemed company of Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. Meanwhile, Sunderland have won just twice this season and are currently in 14th place.
But despite only having a pair of wins so far, the Black Cats can be a tough nut to crack, and this weekend will be a real test of the newly found quality and resilience of the Hammers.
There may be a few raised eyebrows at my selection of Sunderland's key player.
The likes of John O'Shea, Anthony Reveillere and Sebastien Larsson have all been in good form this recently, but the man I am picking out is forward-cum-winger Connor Wickham.
The former Ipswich Town prodigy hasn't really had the career Sunderland had hoped for when they forked out £8m to sign the then 18 year old back in 2011. However, he ended last season in blistering form, and has been an ever present in Gus Poyet's side this term.
His form has been patchy, but when he is on song he is the sort of player that is capable of winning any game. If we take a look at Sunderland's victories this season, you can see the sort of impact that England U21 international can have on his side.
In the 3-1 over Stoke back at the beginning of October, Wickham bagged himself a goal, and assist, two interceptions, three clearances, put in three tackles and generally ran himself into the ground.
The images below show his heat map and take ons from the game. On the day, he was successful 4 out of the 5 times he took on his man, and, significantly, three of those were in or around the penalty area. This displays Wickham's direct approach, picking up the ball and driving at the opposition.
And his heat map from the game shows that he is difficult to pick up too. Despite lining up as a left winger in most games this season, the youngster has a tendency to pop up all over the park, working back to help his fullbacks, picking up the ball in the central channel, or coming in off the right.
In the other win, November's 3-1 win at Crystal Palace, Wickham didn't produce such an impact. However, his performance shows that he has a pretty well rounded game.
He had 10 aerial duels in that game (winning 50%), attempted 10 tackles (winning 50%), and made 5 clearances.
His heat map below displays his work rate for the team, as they withstood heavy pressure from the Eagles. You can see that he spent a significant amount of time defending in the left fullback area.
He may not be a world beater, and he may not even be Sunderland's best player, but Connor Wickham is the sort that can produce a performance out of the blue, and cause some serious damage to an opposition.
How do you stop Sunderland?
Despite their poor start to the season, the Black Cats have only actually lost two home games this season - against Arsenal and Manchester City. The problem they have had is that they've drawn 5 of their opening 8 home games, winning just once.
One of the key reasons that they have struggled to convert draws to wins is the approach they tend to take. Gus Poyet's side are one of those that are happy to allow the opposition to have the ball and attack, and then try to hit them on the break. This is an approach that they tend to adopt both home and away.
The chart below shows the possession held by Sunderland in their 8 home league games this season, compared with West Ham's possession in our 7 away games this season.
You can see that the Hammers have generally held more possession away from home than the Black Cats have managed at the Stadium of Light this term. From this, it seems a fair bet that the Irons are likely to have the lions share of possession.
Probably Sunderland's best home results this season have come in the win against Stoke, and draw with Chelsea. In both of those games, the opposition has had the a massive bulk of possession, but Sunderland have been able to soak pressure and hit on the counter.
The images below show Sunderland's take ons from both of those games, you can see that the approach is clearly to get out of defence quickly and get forward.
Considering a pointed out being caught on the break as a weakness for West Ham after the Swansea game last week, this is something we will need to be mindful of as we surge forward in search of goals.
One of Sunderland's clear weaknesses is that they are weak defensively. They have been more resolute in recent weeks, but there is still a fragile streak at the back.
Three of the last five games Sunderland have played at home have been against Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City. The images below show the chances created by those sides.
You can see that all three took very different approaches to the game. Everton (left) favoured attacking down the flanks, putting in 17 crosses, and creating 8 of their 14 chances from the wide areas. All of the chances arsenal (centre) created were within the width of the penalty box, while Manchester City (right) mixed it up.
During those games Everton only scored from a penalty and Arsenal's goals came from defensive lapses, whilst City created a lot of chances, and scored four from open play.
Against Sunderland, the style of the approach play is not as pronounced as it is against other sides. For example, you wouldn't tend to go long against Stoke as they will beat most players in the air, but against Arsenal you're likely to have a lot of joy in the air.
If West Ham are to pick up another victory on the road, we must be willing to adapt, and mix our styles. We shouldn't simply look to put the ball on Carroll's head, or look to Downing to pick passes, or Sakho to run behind. We must do all of these things and more.
On paper, we are a side that should be beating Sunderland. We have an almost entirely fit squad to choose from, our form is good, and there's isn't great.
Despite this, I have a sneaking feeling that we won't get the win we are after. For me, any away point is a good point, and that's what I think we'll get: a good point.
Head to Head
36% Head to Head Win % 38%
31 Won 33
22 Drawn 22
33 Lost 31
124 Goals Scored 133
133 Goals Conceded 124
Recent Form (excl. Friendlies)
W D D D L D Last 6 D D L W W W
5 Goals Scored 9
6 Goals Conceded 6
D W L D D L Home/Away Form D L W D L W
5 Goals Scored 11
8 Goals Conceded 10
Form Player (excl. GK)
(Last 6 League)
Sebastien Larsson - James Tomkins
6 Appearances 5
505 Minutes Played 426
45 Sum WhoScored Performance Score 39.6
7.5 Average WhoScored Performance Rating 7.9
220 Passes Attempted 150
183 Completed 107
83% Success Rate 71%
11 Chances Created 1
0 Assists 0
3 Attempts on Goal 1
3 On Target 1
1 Goals 1
5 Take Ons Attempted 1
4 Successful Take Ons 1
80% Success Rate 100%
30 Tackles Made 16
13 Successful Tackles 12
43% Success Rate 75%
10 Interceptions 12
8 Clearances 50
2 Blocks 7
3 Defensive Actions Per Game 14
7 Aerial Duels 29
2 Won 23
29% Success Rate 79%
0 Defensive Errors 0
0 Leading to a Goal 0
31 March 2014
0-1 Andy Carroll 9'
0-2 Mohamed Diamé 50'
1-2 Adam Johnson 65'
3-5-2 Starting Formation 4-2-3-1
Vito Mannone - Adrián
Wes Brown - Guy Demel
(60') John O'Shea - James Tomkins
Santiago Vergini - Winston Reid
Phil Bardsley - George McCartney (46')
Liam Bridcutt - Mark Noble
(79') Ki Sung-Yeung - Matthew Taylor
(53') Lee Cattermole - Stewart Downing
Marcos Alonso - Kevin Nolan (84')
Fabio Borini - Mohamed Diamé (79')
Connor Wickham - Andy Carroll
Oscar Ustari - Jussi Jääskeläinen
Carlos Cuellar - Roger Johnson (79')
Craig Gardner - Pablo Armero (46')
(60') Jack Colback - Antonio Nocerino (84')
(53') Adam Johnson - Matt Jarvis
(79') Ignacio Scocco - Joe Cole
Jozy Altidore - Carlton Cole
Sunderland: Billy Jones, Patrick van Aanholt, Emanuele Giaccherini
West Ham United: Carl Jenkinson, Mark Noble
West Ham United:
Opposition Last Time Out (League)
Goals Scored: 0
Goals Conceded: 0
Starting Formation: 4-1-4-1
Santiago Vergini John O'Shea Wes Brown Anthony Reveillere
Adam Johnson (78') Sebastien Larsson (69') Jordi Gomez Connor Wickham
Jozy Altidore (6.9)
Lee Cattermole (69')
Will Buckley (78')
Ricardo Alvarez (6.9)
Best Player: John O'Shea (SR: 8.3)
Worst Player: Jozy Altidore (SR: 6.2)
Top 5's (Min 5 Apps)
Steven Fletcher 4 - 7 Diafra Sakho
Sebastien Larsson 2 - 3 Enner Valencia
Connor Wickham 2 - 2 Andy Carroll
Jordi Gomez 1 - 2 Mauro Zárate
Jack Rodwell 1 - 2 Carlton Cole
Patrick van Aanholt 2 - 6 Stewart Downing
Sebastien Larsson 2 - 2 Enner Valencia
Liam Bridcutt 1 - 2 Carl Jenkinson
Jordi Gomez 1 - 2 Cheikhou Kouyaté
Will Buckley 1 - 2 James Tomkins
Patrick van Aanholt 87% - 86% Mark Noble
John O'Shea 86% - 85% Stewart Downing
Sebastien Larsson 84% - 84% Mauro Zárate
Liam Bridcutt 84% - 82% Winston Reid
Wes Brown 84% - 82% Kevn Nolan
Chances Created per 90
Sebastien Larsson 2.08 - 2.79 Stewart Downing
Adam Johnson 1.29 - 1.33 Andy Carroll
Jordi Gomez 1.27 - 1.31 Mauro Zárate
Jozy Altidore 1.19 - 1.26 Mark Noble
Patrick van Aanholt 0.85 - 1.25 Alex Song
Successful Dribbles per 90
Adam Johnson 2.15 - 2.4 Mauro Zárate
Santiago Vergini 1.65 - 1.73 Enner Valencia
Jozy Altidore 1.59 - 1.3 Diafra Sakho
Connor Wickham 1.58 - 1.25 Alex Song
Will Buckley 1.52 - 0.88 Morgan Amalfitano
Tackles Won per 90
Patrick van Aanholt 2.34 - 2.75 Alex Song
Jack Rodwell 2.29 - 2.62 Mark Noble
Sebastien Larsson 2.19 - 2.53 Cheikhou Kouyaté
Liam Bridcutt 2.08 - 1.66 Carl Jenkinson
Lee Cattermole 2.04 - 1.58 James Tomkins
Aerial Duels Won per 90
Jozy Altidore 5.58 - 14.07 Andy Carroll
Steven Fletcher 3.45 - 4.82 James Collins
Connor Wickham 2.95 - 4.1 James Tomkins
Wes Brown 2.09 - 3.51 Diafra Sakho
Liam Bridcutt 1.88 - 3.17 Carlton Cole
Gus Poyet - Sam Allardyce
15/11/1967 DOB 19/10/1954
47 Age 60
Real Zaragoza Main Club Bolton Wanderers
239 Appearances 231
63 Goals 24
5 Total Clubs 9
463 Appearances 512
125 Goals 43
Uruguay National Team England
26 Caps 0
Brighton & Hove Albion First Managerial Role Preston North End
10/11/2009 Start Date 30/09/1992
5y 1m 2d Experience 22y 2m 12d
2 Sides Managed 7
1 League Titles 2
0 Cup Wins 0
41.8% Win % 39.9%
105 Won 357
75 Drawn 235
71 Lost 302
Longest Role (excl. Current)
Brighton & Hove Albion Club Bolton Wanderers
10/11/2009 Appointed 19/10/1999
23/06/2013 Left 29/04/2007
3y 7m 12d Time in Charge 7y 6m 9d
1 League Titles 0
0 Cup Wins 0
44.3% Win % 41.2%
86 Won 153
59 Drawn 104
49 Lost 114
08/10/2013 Appointed 01/06/2011
1y 2m 4d Time in Charge 3y 6m 12d
0 League Titles 0
0 Cup Wins 0
33.3% Win % 40.9%
19 Won 63
16 Drawn 36
22 Lost 55