Tactical Preview: Hazard Perception for Sunderland vs Chelsea

With Sunderland needing something from the visit of Chelsea to Wearside this weekend, we look at three things Sam Allardyce’s side must do to ramp up the pressure on Newcastle.

Handle the Pressure

For starters, Sunderland are as good as beaten if they play like they did against Stoke. Sitting in 17th, the weight of expectation ultimately proved too much as Sam Allardyce’s side put in their worst performance in months.

The defence couldn’t handle 35-year-old Peter Crouch. The midfield couldn’t pass the ball. The strikers were feeding off scraps.

It needs to be better this time out. Back on home soil, and surely buoyed by that unlikely point, Big Sam has challenged his side not to ‘lose the plot’ like title-chasing Spurs did against the same opposition on Monday night.

“You saw it in Tottenham, I think, on Monday night when they lost the plot. We can’t afford to do that. We have to stay focused from start to finish”

While this Sunderland side isn’t one to lose their heads quite in Tottenham’s fashion, with the last red card coming in Dick Advocaat’s final game, they have, on far too many occasions, failed to perform in games they could not lose. Anything Sunderland can take from Saturday’s outing will be huge, but another defeat makes the task a whole lot harder.

Hazard Perception

A little over a year ago Eden Hazard won PFA Player of the Year for his role in Chelsea’s title-winning season. Fast forward 12 months and this has been one to forget for the Belgian. With only three assists and without a league goal until two weeks ago, Hazard has been one of Chelsea’s underperforming stars.

Yet the past two weeks have been the Hazard of old. A well taken brace against Bournemouth was followed up by the stunning equaliser against Spurs to end their London rivals’ title dreams. But Sunderland know all about Eden Hazard.

Wednesday 4th December 2013. After Jozy Altidore had given Sunderland an unlikely lead, Eden Hazard conspired to steal the show in a 4-3 win for the visitors. Tormenting Phil Bardsley down the wing, Hazard struck two brilliant goals in one of the best solo performances the Stadium of Light has ever seen.

DeAndre Yedlin and co. cannot afford a repeat performance from a man threatening to find his feet in the Premier League once again.

Feed Defoe

The chances were few and far between for Jermain Defoe at the Britannia last weekend. Only managing three shots on target, one of which was the penalty, Defoe largely failed to work 24-year-old Jakob Haugaard in the Stoke goal.

The cause of that was simply the lack of service to the frontman. Wahbi Khazri failed to create a single chance in the uninspiring 59 minutes the Tunisian was involved for, while Fabio Borini set up only one, and failed to have a single shot himself. The steady supply from Sunderland’s midfield trio had dried up too. Jan Kirchhoff’s usually reliable passing let the side down, with his 59% pass accuracy among the lowest since his arrival. Yann M’Vila, whose through ball led to Defoe winning the penalty, was similarly disappointing.

Realistically, the chances won’t be flowing in abundance on Saturday. Against a Chelsea side boasting a fit again John Terry, Defoe will need to take anything that falls his way. Despite not scoring on Wearside since the brace against Aston Villa on January 2nd, it’s hard to bet against Defoe on current form.

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Don Vito

Don Vito

Sunderland’s latest Italian is the erstwhile Arsenal third-choice goalkeeper Vito Mannone. Arriving after a stand-out season from the Liverpool-bound Simon Mignolet, replacing the Belgian will be no easy task.

Mannone’s arrival was greeted with a fair bit of hesitancy from the Sunderland faithful. A goalkeeper with a chequered reputation and somewhat down the pecking order at a club which hasn’t been known for its goalkeeping consistency in recent years wasn’t a name whom fans had perhaps wished to replace a man with more obvious talent and potential like Mignolet. Is this too unfair, however? At 25, he is still young for a goalkeeper and his time at Arsenal has shown a few glimpses of quality in him, albeit counterbalanced by the odd worrying and costly error.

To find out more, WeAreWearside interviewed the good folks at arseblog.com to get their take on their departing man.


WAW: Everyone knows a little about Mannone, but the general feelings amongst fans is that this is a poor signing, magnified maybe after Mignolet had such a brilliant season for us. Do you think Mannone's reputation is a fair reflection on him?

Arseblog: I don't think it's unreasonable to be disappointed to replace Mignolet, who looked one of the best keepers in the league, with Mannone, who clearly isn't as good. But I think his reputation is a little unfair, he did pretty well for us last season.

WAW: What would you say are his strengths and weaknesses?

Arseblog: Strengths - Good shot stopper, good organiser, distribution is pretty solid. Weaknesses - a flaw all the Arsenal keepers seem to have is a lack of dominance in their area, could be stronger in that regard.

WAW: Is it fair to say that a lot of his mistakes are down to experience or do you think this will be an ongoing trend?

Arseblog: All keepers make mistakes. He had one or two dodgy moments with us, a spectacular error in the Champions League seems to have defined him, but that was very much out of the ordinary. He did well at Hull on loan when he played regularly, and I think he'll become a better player if he plays week in, week out for you.

WAW: Is there a Premier League keeper you can compare him to in terms of quality?

Arseblog: Not really, he's just a reasonably solid, fairly inexperienced (in the grand scheme of things), goalkeeper.

WAW: We know as a keeper he is still very young - potentially how good do you think he could be?

Arseblog: It's hard to say, really. You won't find too many people who would say he's got a ton of untapped potential, but I don't think he's as bad as people make him out to be either.

WAW: Do you have any specific memories or stories which may interest our readers?

Arseblog: He had a brilliant game against Fulham in 09. We won 1-0 and it was down to him, he made a string of increasingly amazing saves. Other than that he doesn't really stand out in the memory (apart from that CL game I mentioned above!). But maybe that's not a bad thing.

WAW: Generally, are Arsenal fans sad to see him go or glad to see the back of him?

Arseblog: Somewhere in the middle. He's a likeable, honest guy, seems a hard-working pro, but there was an acceptance that he was never going to make it as number 1 at Arsenal. I think people are happy enough that he's gone, but that's as much to see him try and play regularly elsewhere than become another Stuart Taylor, a player that was content to sit on his arse and pick up wages without any real ambition of playing. There's certainly no ill-will towards him.


The terrible moment against Olympiakos in 2011 does stand out, when Vito rushed out of the area in an attempt to charge down an attack, missed the ball completely and then kicked the air as he failed to prevent the shot from going in. Whilst such a calamitous rush of blood to the head is not fully representative of the player, it would be wrong to claim that in the few appearances Mannone has made for Arsenal errors have been rare. The words “every goalkeeper makes mistakes” is often a polite way of masking the fact that some make costly mistakes more than others. If Mannone is to make a case for being a Premier League first choice goalkeeper this coming season, concentration is part of his game which requires focus.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Di Canio will prefer Westwood or Mannone in goal. Westwood’s scant opportunities so far have tended to indicate that he can be a very capable performer at Premier League level, and will be desperate to seize his opportunity this year after being very vocal with his frustration regarding the lack of playing time afforded to him as of yet.

As for Mannone, many goalkeepers have been happy enough to remain in the position he had found himself in – a perennial understudy at a top club who may pick up the odd appearance now and then, but will never make a serious challenge for the first choice jersey. The Italian to his credit has obviously no wish to fall into that category. His words during his press conference, stating that the move to Wearside was the realisation of the opportunity he had long wished for, indicate a desire to learn, improve and ultimately fight to be chosen for as many games as possible.

He may lack experience, but all of the sounds about him point to a dedicated professional with a point to prove. Good luck to him.

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