Last October, facing the tragic start of the season (2 points in 7 matches), Nicholas Lorenz published an article on the columns of the portal awangardafutbolu.pl in which he gave five reasons why Sunderland would not be relegated from the Premiership.
1. An interesting squad This year's Sunderland presents an interesting mix of youth with experience, which should produce the expected results. Jermain Defoe, Jack Rodwell or Adnan Januzaj? There are no random names here and they are very familiar to every fan of English football. Interestingly, Januzaj has the highest successful dribbles rate in the Premiership, and this is definitely not his last word on the matter. Defoe’s killer instinct in front of the goal is still there and guarantees a double figure return this season.
2. The Manager
Yes, this is not a joke. Failures with Manchester United and Real Sociedad had given David Moyes something to prove. The Scotsman understands the realities of the Premier League well, and should have no problem working in a place where there is practically no pressure of success. (…) Young players like McNair or Januzaj should blossom under his guidance. Moyes will bring stability and composure to the club, and this should help in the key moments of the season.
3. Breaking the hoodoo
The unlucky series must finally come to an end. Sunderland is not playing poorly, which was very visible against the City. (…) Usually, Moyes’s team loses points because of bad luck rather than poor performance. Victories simply must come and along with them - the confidence and support of their fans.
4. Fantastic endgames
Tradition, tradition… tradition. Sunderland always plays awfully in the first half of the season and kicks back in the second. With the final push it never fails to crawl out of the relegation zone. This happened a year ago, when a fabulous finish assured their place in the Premiership. It had ended similarly in earlier seasons. (…)
5. Korona Kielce
The Black Cats is the English equivalent of Polish Korona Kielce. Do we need to say more? Each season they are tipped for relegation and each season it turns out to be a mistake. No bet on the relegation of the team from Northern England has delivered a single penny so far. (...) "
It was not a bad text, though the inspiration for it was something that I define as "stecologics" [from Rafał Stec, a renowned Polish football journalist]. It offered a handful of fresh insights plus a little statistics, all seasoned with a pinch of tabloid sensationalism served in a humorous brine. More literature than football, and with a total lack of common sense. The only reason I'm referring to this text here is because Sunderland is rarely written about in the Polish press.
1. Even Blackburn have an interesting squad this year, but is this a reason for them to avoid relegation from the Championship this year? I doubt it. If it would not be 14 goals scored by Defoe (yes, fourteen!), the only interesting fact about their squad would be the January injury of fourteen (yes, 14!) names.
2. I do not know whether Moyes has anything to prove to anyone, but it is known that he likes to tinker with his tactics with both hands and little hesitation. Therefore this season Sunderland have already played with seven different setups, each for no longer than two matches, and the in-game transition from five defenders to three attackers and back is not a challenge for Moyes.
3. Allow me to comment on the arguments such as "to break the hoodoo" and "great endgames" with a moment of silence. Even trying to come up with counter-arguments gives me headache. I believe that everyone in Sunderland knows about both these rules, so now they wait quietly until they kick in. Both at the same time, or one after another.
4. What about the comparison with Korona Kielce? Well, analogies with the Black Cats would surely become irrelevant to the author of that text had he realized that for three generations of fans (i.e., since the beginning of the 1960s), their club has been continuously shuttling between the Premiership and the Championship, more often and longer residing in the latter.
The only thing I can agree with in the text above is the statement that "Sunderland doesn’t play awfully". If by AWFULLY we mean boredom, simplicity, lack of ambition, and an archaic style of play, I agree fully with the author: Sunderland’s play is not awful. There is verve, strength, ambition, surprise, speed, fight, feeling, novelty, determination, and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, it is still too little for the Premiership. There is unified theme on how to play. No plan. No order. No utilization of the players’ potential. Composure and consistency are also missing.
Moyes's experiment with three defenders has failed the same way his experiment with two attackers has. He has failed to teach his players either defensive 3-5-2 or offensive 5-3-2. There were gaps in their 4-4-2, too much congestion in his 3-6-1, and both of these in his 4-2-3-1. His players still don’t know how to play a wide game , while they cannot play a narrow one. Now even O'Shea probably no longer knows what is going on, or what is going to happen next. I recommend you watch the first 10-15 minutes of any of their January matches. It looks as if only just a moment before they learned how to play as a team. I prefer Stoke or Watford with their boring philosophy of the blunt heel and the soft underbelly.
In a nutshell: this season the Premiership says goodbye to Sunderlad, Sunderland says goodbye to Moyes, and Moyes? Moyes says hello to the TV studio.
And how does Football Manager 2017 reflects that? Unfortunately I have no good news for Sunderland fans (but neither for Hull, Swansea, and Middlesbrough). Courtesy of the colleagues I have here results of twelve simulated seasons of the Premier League, in which the Black Cats collected between 28 and 39 points, getting relegated five times, and only twice staying up by by a margin larger than 4 points. I rejected two extreme cases (41 and 25 points) as outliers, and the rest of the results is presented below.
It seems that 9 wins for this team is a kind of a magical barrier which Moyes’s boys try to go through, but rarely with success. Interestingly, in the FM world regardless of the final results Moyes keeps his job at the Stadium of Light.
It seems that researchers responsible for the English Premier League had assumed Hull, Middlesbrough, Swansea, and Sunderland have the least arguments to offer, so those squads are not characterised by an excess of either luxury or calculation. This might mean that we have chosen the team correctly. Let us see…
For several years the club has been jumping from deck to deck of two ships: HMS Premier and HMS Champion. The ambition of its owners was to build a strong mid-table team. Even though a few years ago it seemed that they were on the right track (10th place in season 2010/11) and had more trumps than spot cards in hand, recent years were a disaster both financially and on the pitch. They spent the last four seasons fighting to preserve the status quo, twice escaping the noose at the very last moment and in dramatic circumstances. Failed transfers, bad management choices (Di Canio, Poyet, Advocaat), too few moments of stability (Allardyce) and a little bit of bad luck - all this together has pushed the Black Cats into trouble. "In the Stadium of Light, we're stuck in the dark." This year similar scenario is very probable. Is that right?
Financially the club does not have much to offer. The budget of 14 million euro for transfers and 70 million a year for salaries may not be the lowest in the league, but we are certainly closer to the bottom than to the top. This picture gets serious the moment you notice that nearly 30 million euro is missing from our bank account. This means that we are bankrupt and during the fight for survival in the Premier League not only our prestige, but also staying in the black is at stake. The Premiership is like Champions League for us.
Our situation becomes really dramatic when we look at our squad. A strange mixture of football pensioners and untested youths immediately raises suspicion, but after seeing the first team, the only reaction can be panic. In the first team we have three players with long-term injuries (Gibson 3-5 months, Jones 2-3 months, Borini 5-6 months), among the rotation group three further patients (O'Shea 2-3 months, Larsson 3-5 months, Cattermole 2-3 months) and one convalescent in the person of our experienced reserve goalkeeper (Mannone 4-5 months). If we further add that among currently healthy players we have two more well known for having serious injury problems (Rodwell, Kirchhoff), and that three others have a history of spending at least than a month in hospital, likely not on holiday (Anichebe, Pienaar, Oviedo), we understand that our greatest problem in Sunderland could be the distance of the stadium from the local emergency room. Madness. And fury, further fuelled by the fact that one of our leading players (Jeremain Lens) has been loaned to Fenerbahce for a whole season, without the recall option.
Well, what can we do, let’s zoom in the picture and browse through the healthy pieces of the puzzle, which means all the footballers available at the beginning of the season.
One can see with the naked eye that there will be problems aplenty, but our advisors are there not to fart around reading the articles, but to work hard. Therefore we leave to them the review of the assets, along with the call for ideas of how to sort it all out and whom to bring in the first transfer window. This time Maestro Petroff won’t ask them tactical questions, but answer them, so they get this aspect over with. Besides, any good tactician should have the squad analysis at his fingertips, so you should have no problem with:
1. separating the wheat from the chaff (first team, reserves, and loose ends),
2. planting the grains on the pitch (optimal positions),
3. predicting what will grow out of them (optimal roles).
So, here is all you need to know:
I hope this view will not only infuse you with hope, but with reason as well. This time in our story we stay firm on the ground, meaning Football Manager reality. This, as everybody knows, has the rules of its own and drifts into realms which are inaccessible to the real Moyes’s mind in real Sunderland. A pity, perhaps…
The assumptions and aims of this episode were to give you the opportunity to familiarize yourselves with the squad, each player’s skills, and the club. I'm waiting for your transfer proposals, but let me remind you that the maximum of 3 players can be suggested, and only one will be bought in the summer window. Do you claim it’s impossible without the knowledge of the tactics or – at least – the formation our team will play? Well, it is possible.
Don’t forget what you have learned so far from internet sites, forums, and guides. I just ask you to put away this knowledge while being in the Tactical Development Workshop, the way you put away a book on the shelf to read something totally different for a moment. If you further decide to return to the previous reading, I won’t hold it against you. Bah, I won’t be even surprised. I know several people who have returned to the old habits after learning the secrets of tweaking the tactics in FM, even though their results started to deteriorate. Why? We will get back to that. In the meantime let us deal with the squad and summer transfer awaiting us.
Please use your own experience and knowledge to suggest which transfer to make to strengthen what is in your opinion the most important position on the field. I ask only this: while suggesting the transfer also suggest the formation to use in our Sunderland, together with a brief explanation why. I wonder how many of you will get close to the truth, especially as I can already see at least several excellent solutions…
Get to work now. The save is getting cold, and Mr Petroff is button-happy.
Game save with the date of 1st July 2016 (23MB)