On the counter.
Hitting on the break doesn’t have to mean a lack of adventure or ambition. It would reap the rewards at the Stadium of Light, just as it did against Norwich…
As derby preparations go, it doesn’t get much better than a six goal romp. On the back of the goal glut, it’s tempting to advocate that Newcastle United should attack Sunderland from the outset, batter down the doors at the Stadium of Light and thoroughly humiliate the hosts.
To suggest a more gung-ho game plan would be to overlook how and why United put half a dozen past Norwich City, when four of those came on the break.
Most impressive of all was the fifth of the day, starting with Janmaat towards his own corner flag, finished with aplomb by Mitrovic ninety yards up the field.
It took just ten seconds to find the Serb’s chest. No lumping upfield; rather, four measured passes. It was a joy to watch, as were all of the goals. Norwich had enjoyed more of the ball – 56% to United’s 44% – but still trudged away from St. James Park well beaten, having had the same number of shots on target as their hosts.
The counter attack worked like a charm. Why wouldn’t Steve McClaren deploy similar tactics against Sunderland?
Unsurprisingly, the notion of playing that way against one of the lowest scoring sides in the Premier League hardly inspires much confidence in United’s approach. But it’s the Black Cats’ lifeless attack that makes countering such a sturdy proposition.
Two goals in five games shows just how much Sunderland are struggling to fashion goalscoring opportunities. Big Sam’s brand of football, coupled with the players at his disposal, doesn’t suggest that their goal tally will be skyrocketing any time soon.
If they aren’t capable of doing anything meaningful with the ball, let them have a little more of it. Then hit them quick, and hit them hard.
Sunderland have struggled to defend attacks down the flanks, where Moussa and Gini caused all manner of problems last time out. Billy Jones and Deandre Yedlin will struggle to cope, particularly when Janmaat joins in, and they shouldn’t expect too much help from the likes of Larsson and Borini, neither of whom put in a single tackle against West Brom.
It’s a side just waiting to be stretched and pulled out of shape, drawn out by Wijnaldum’s ghosting runs or Sissoko’s direct forays into enemy territory. On top of that, the back four have the presence of Mitrovic and the slick feet of Perez with which to contend. Ayoze running at the cumbersome Kaboul has disaster written all over it in the best possible way.
In those four players, United have an array of different attacking options, the likes of which Sam Allardyce can only dream of. On Sunday afternoon, all four looked at their most effective when United broke at pace.
To many, playing on the counter evokes images of ten men behind the ball throughout insipid 1-0 wins, provoking words such as negative, dull, unambitious. It can amount to that on occasion, but it’s not always a conservative way for sides to set out their stalls.
According to UEFA boffins, Europe’s elite clubs are increasingly shifting from keep-ball to rapid transitions.
If Real Madrid can do it, why not Newcastle United?
As a direct result of last weekend’s second-half masterclass, the Premier League win column currently reads Sunderland 0 Newcastle 1.
If those numbers are on the Stadium of Light scoreboard after ninety minutes, few will be complaining – but on Sunday’s evidence, there’s potential for more than just your traditional smash and grab.
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