How Did The Season Go?
About as badly as it could possibly go. After years of sacking managers and valiantly staving off relegation at the final hurdle, escaping under a new manager who would then be (wrongly) entrusted to take the reins for the next season, Sunderland have finally stuck with the same guy for an entire season and gone down to the Championship. David Moyes was, once again, expected to be the right man for a difficult job – strong, uncompromising, fearsome – but as at Manchester United and Real Sociedad, the Scot has been exposed as a proud, pig-headed dinosaur, completely out of step with the modern game and blind to his own faults.
Make no mistake about it, Sunderland’s relegation has been richly deserved. Their side is low on quality, even lower on cohesion and very high on mediocre or past-it former Everton players, and their tactical ideas seem rooted in the English lower leagues and the mid-1990s. For years their recruitment “policy” has been a disaster – of 46 players signed since 2009, only three have been sold for a profit – and even though their squad is most certainly not among the ten best in the Premier League, their wage bill is among the ten highest.
It’s been a long, sorry tale of bad management in the boardroom, even worse management on the training ground and in the dugout, disillusioned and demotivated players, furious fans and, if we’re honest, it was always going to end this way eventually. The Premier League will not miss Sunderland, or the festering stench of decay at the Stadium of Light.
First and foremost, chairman Ellis Short has to sit down and work out how to cut the wage bill to make the club sustainable in the Championship. It’s no secret that Short is open to selling the Black Cats, but to do so in the second tier would lead to a considerable loss for the already cash-short American, so his top priority has to be righting the many wrongs at the club and getting them back up into the top flight.
There’s also the small matter of David Moyes’ future to be decided. Moyes has already gone on record as saying that he feels misled over the size of the job and the state of the club when he took over: he was unaware of the dire financial situation which meant that no transfer funds were available, and had no idea that Short would put the club up for sale. Rightly or wrongly, Moyes clearly feels he’s better than managing in the Championship, but Short holds the trump card: after the last few years, in which Moyes has won a total of 47 out of 135 games, he won’t find many offers coming his way.
Finally, there’s the fact that every key player Sunderland have – Jermain Defoe, Jordan Pickford, Lamine Koné, Didier Ndong – will leave. The highly paid ex-Everton deadwood on short-term contracts will surely be let go too, thankfully, but Sunderland will face an uphill struggle convincing the quality of player they need to sign while simultaneously balancing the books. In short: they’re probably FUBAR’d.
It’s still open to debate as to whether Sunderland actually have tactics beyond standing around in a roughly organised shape and then letting the opponent walk through them and score goals.
They’ve cycled through a number of formations and systems – far more than should ever be necessary – but they’ve never struck on one which gave them balance, cohesion and strength across the pitch. In the last three weeks, for example, they’ve played 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 and most recently 3-5-2, always changing system in a bid to thwart their opponents, and rarely succeeding.
Their players never seem to have a chance to settle or to get to grips with the role they’ve been assigned, or to express themselves in an attacking role, because Moyes is so scared of their opponents that his only focus is stopping them playing. In classic British manager fashion, his ideas are based on manly ideals of grit, digging in, determination, sacrifice and resolute defending. Attacking is, apparently, best done as quickly as possible, or from set-pieces, which means there are a lot of hopeful punts down the field and a lot of hopeful crosses into the box.
Unfortunately for Moyes, this doesn’t really work at the top level any more. He punched above his weight playing like this for over a decade in a division which, frankly, hadn’t caught up with the rest of the world. Now that the Premier League has taken huge steps forward in the last few years, Moyes looks like an idiot. He looked like an idiot at Manchester United, he looked like an even bigger one when he went to Spain and preached a totally different kind of underdog football to the one that Real Sociedad’s players knew worked, and now he looks like an idiot at Sunderland. His reputation may never recover.
Jermain Defoe knows how to score goals.
Jordan Pickford is English and, as such, has the media onside despite being obviously mediocre.
As ever Sunderland’s XI is heavily depleted by injuries and suspensions, and given Moyes’ permanent temptation to match the opponent’s system, both Sunderland’s line-up and system are difficult to predict. We should probably expect a similar 3-5-2 to the one Moyes used against Arsenal, with whichever eleven players are available and not in a foul mood on the day.
As for Chelsea, this will surely be one last run-out for the most frequently used-XI, with John Terry coming on to pick up minutes towards the end.
Chelsea 4-0 Sunderland.