We have all read about why Gus Poyet is the wrong choice as manager and how our squad will struggle to adapt to his style of play. We all know how his inexperience and temperament could be detrimental to our chances of survival. However, I think it is time we talk about football. I mean let’s run through Poyet and his tactics with the finest of toothcombs. Here is an absolutely fascinating interview with Brighton & Hove Albion blog site Not Worth That telling us why Poyet will revolutionise Sunderland. If you’re on the fence, like me, it is likely you won’t after this. Get a cuppa, this is worth the long read!
WAW: We all know Poyet loves a pass, but I’d like to start at the back - what does he expect from his back four?
NWT: Well, first and foremost, he expects them to be good defensively. Until the Albion signed Tomasz Kuszczak, the goalkeeper position was a bit of an issue, but the back four was fairly solid throughout Poyet's time in Sussex. He quickly established a strong unit around his captain Gordon Greer and Brighton quickly became a difficult team to break down. Much of the rapid defensive improvement witnessed at the start of Poyet's spell would have been due in no small part to the input of Mauricio Taricco, who even managed a few games at full back. The former Ipswich and Spurs player is an important part of Poyet's managerial approach and Sunderland fans should be relieved to hear he will be joining his friend in the north east.
Under Poyet and Taricco's tutelage, the Albion were not a dirty team, but equally, they knew when and where to concede fouls and were perhaps more cynical than they had been in previous seasons. However, the key to the club's strong defensive record under Poyet was how the team defended en masse, rather than leaving it to the defence. Even one of the two wide players in his preferred 433 formation were often included by Poyet more for their defensive capabilities than their attacking intent. When the Albion lost the ball, the players knew what was required of them and where they fit in to the defensive set-up. This sometimes saw fans frustrated on occasions when attacking flair seemed to give way to a safety first policy and you can guarantee there will be Sunderland players who fit into Poyet's system who supporters struggle to appreciate their strengths.
But, while it is true that Poyet employed a cautious approach, he also saw defence as the start of attacks. Direct balls were used - often by Greer - but under Poyet the Brighton back four become the starting point for almost every foray into opposition territory.
Build-up was slow, patient and - at times - a little ponderous. This could have been partly because of the potential limitations of the players at his disposal. New Albion head coach Oscar Garcia has tried to employ a faster style with fewer touches on the ball and results have not been too encouraging. Poyet may well then have settled for a slower build-up from his defensive players than he would have ideally liked.
Anyone Sunderland fans worrying about how some of their less-talented squad players will cope with a new passing approach should rest assured that it was a style not seen on the south coast in generations. Poyet took League One defenders used to hitting long balls at centre forwards and transformed them into a cultured first line of attack. Some won't believe it is possible, but if the players buy into it, they'll soon adapt
WAW: How important are fullbacks in his style of play?
NTW: They are key. In League One, Poyet preferred one attacking full back and one slightly more conservative, but this was mainly down to the less-than-rampaging attacking qualities of the otherwise steady Marcos Painter at left back. Once he snaffled up Wayne Bridge last season, Seagulls fans saw the shackles taken off on both flanks. Inigo Calderon, Brighton's swashbuckling right back, was one of Poyet's key players throughout his time as manager and the full backs were often the first outlet for the goalkeeper - either from open play or goal kicks.
When the Albion got possession the two centre backs split very wide, with the deep sitting midfield player filling in centrally. The two full backs then pushed wide and up the pitch. Basically, a back four turned very quickly into a back two, with a defensive shield in front of them. The left and right back moved more into a midfield area, allowing the rest of the team to press up. Generally the approach worked and allowed the possession-heavy Albion to change the angle of attacks through short passes across the rather fluid line-up.
At times though opposition managers worked hard to isolate the central defenders in possession and mark the full backs and defensive midfield player. This left the ball at the feet of the side's least capable passers and often resulted in the Seagulls losing possession far more cheaply than they would otherwise have liked. In the Premier League though, where defenders seem to be given more time on the ball than in the Championship, this should not be such a problem. And, as mentioned earlier, the emphasis was on the entire team funnelling back into a solid defensive system when the ball was lost, which reduced the vulnerability in wide areas. Bridcutt, Poyet's most consistent player, was central to this, with superb positional sense and an excellent understanding of where on the pitch needed additional cover.
WAW: We have been woeful at defending set pieces. What system does Poyet employ and should we expect improvement there?
NWT: The Albion never particularly seemed to struggle defending set pieces and employed a mixture of zonal and man to man. Poyet did not always leave a player up field, which at times frustrated supporters, but rarely leaked soft goals from free kicks or corners.
One approach Poyet did favour was to bring back Glenn Murray (before he left) and later Leo Ulloa to act as a free man with the single job to attack the ball when it was played in - similar to the role employed successfully by Didier Drogba under Mourinho at Chelsea. I would expect a similar approach at Sunderland. Poyet likes to take avoidable errors out of the equation defensively and, if defended set pieces is a genuine weak link, you can assume Taricco will be on the case.
WAW: Moving to the midfield - how is that set up and what can our central midfielders expect to be be asked to do?
NWT: Keep possession. That is Poyet's mantra and during his time at Brighton he completely revolutionised the club - establishing a genuine style amid the hurly burly of League One and adapting it successfully in the Championship. Think Swansea City, but slightly slower.
The most important player in a Poyet team is the either the centre forward (more on that later) or the deepest of the midfield three he likes to employ. At Brighton the latter role was filled by Bridcutt, who has won the club's player of the year award two seasons in a row - and by some distance on each occasion. Sunderland will need to find a player happy with the ball at his feet, willing to collect passes from back four and slot into defensive positions vacated by attacking full backs. Poyet's basic approach is to keep the ball moving and the angle of attack changing. The deepest midfielder is key to that. Poyet once said Bridcutt could play for Real Madrid and, with the former Chelsea prospect rescued from the footballing scrap heap by the Uruguayan, it would be surprising if he did not return to The Amex in January armed with a cheque book. Bridcutt would likely be available for anything north of £3million. Anyone else who wants to play in that position probably only has a matter of months to cement a place or make way for the coveted Championship midfielder.
The other two midfield positions in a Poyet team are more flexible. The Seagulls struggled to find goals from midfield during Poyet's management but in Andrea Orlandi he found a creative player capable of unlocking defences. Had Vicente been available more often he would have slotted into front of the midfield three instead of Orlandi so Sunderland fans should expect at least one of the club's chosen three to have a creative streak. If his time at Brighton is anything to go by, the third of the trio will be a more physical, imposing figure expected to dovetail with whoever fills the Bridcutt position. All three will interchange during matches, while staying central enough to allow the full backs to venture forward. In possession, Poyet's team are flexible and fluid, when they lose it, a definite structure takes place. It can be a challenging approach for players to adapt to, which is perhaps why Poyet often appeared to lack a Plan B - his team was so drilled in his approach of choice they may have struggled with a mid-game switch.
WAW: Wingers were key to everything under Paolo Di Canio - what about Poyet?
NWT: Fans may find the club now has a surplus of wingers then, because Poyet only played two attacking wide men from the start on a handful of occasions. His favoured front three was a talismanic centre forward, a flying, traditional winger, and a more disciplined, defensively capable third.
Away from home, this worked well and was understandable. At home, it was frustrating as teams came to The Amex determined to sit deep, surrender possession but nullify attacking intent. With only one winger on the field, this was an easier task than it should have been.
Poyet's side also went two seasons without coming from behind to win a game which indicates a degree of tactical rigidity. When chasing games his tendency was not to introduce a second winger and go for broke, but to simply change like for like. That said, under Poyet, the team also rarely lost from a winning position. Drawing too many games did become a hazard last season, but Sunderland fans may have to get used to leaving the Stadium of Light having drawn a game they should have won, only to clinch an unexpected victory away from home the week after.
His approach certainly won't be gung ho. But it will be considered and, ultimately, it should be successful enough to keep Sunderland away from the clutches of the Championship.
WAW: What qualities are needed as a striker to successfully fit into a Gus Poyet side?
NWT: As strange as it may sound when describing a player at the forefront of a passing side, they need to have a degree of physicality. Much of the attacking play will go through the forward's feet so an ability to play with their back to goal and an awareness allowing them to bring others into play is essential. Glenn Murray was a perfect fit and Leo Ulloa - who Poyet spent a year chasing before finally signing last season - looked every bit as capable. Both are tall, strong in possession but with a deft touch and swaggering approach. Being strong in the air will also be a plus point. Without having seen too much of either recently, Steven Fletcher would appear a better fit than Jozy Altidore. Similarly to Bridcutt, a January move for Ulloa wouldn't surprise any on the south coast.
Attacking players who don't fit that description shouldn't worry too much however. At Brighton Ashley Barnes was turned into a penalty box striker into a left of a three defensive option and was one of Poyet's go to players for big games. With one striker Poyet's preferred option it may be other Sunderland strikers find themselves having to adapt their game to force their way into this thinking.
WAW: Do you think we have the squad to pull this off and will it save us from relegation?
NWT: Yes. In fact, I would go further and say you will be comfortably safe. When Poyet arrived at Brighton the club was at a low ebb and facing a relegation dog fight. He galvanised the team, the club and the support base. His positivity and confidence infected the city. We signed players who, you suspect, had never even heard of our club, and we did so on a budget far less competitive than other sides, both in League One and the Championship. Last season, for example, Brighton had around the 14th highest playing budget in the Championship yet finished fourth.
Players who were ordinary but bought into his vision flourished and Poyet and his coaching team of Taricco and Charlie Oatway developed a strong team spirit - something which could be vital following Di Canio's reported problems.
Some Brighton fans struggled to accept Poyet's passing style in the first few weeks and Sunderland fans will perhaps have to be patient. They might also have to get used to the national press descending on Sunderland press conferences every week to ask questions about Chelsea, Spurs and a host of other clubs. That baggage though will be worth it if he gets it right on the pitch.
The partisan nature of support in the north east will suit Poyet and he should breathe new life into the club and the support base.
As long as fans stay patient and the players back him and his new ideas, Sunderland should be fine.
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