Should David Moyes stick with 3-5-2 for Sunderland? What other choices does he have?

Sunderland boss David Moyes
Sunderland boss David Moyes
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Discussing his recent switch to a five-man defence, Sunderland boss David Moyes talked about finding a way to cut out the defensive errors.

At the same time, he was adamant that he wanted to keep two up front, knowing that Sunderland’s attacking incision is bad enough without losing more players in attack.

The results have been encouraging, notwithstanding some fairly insipid performances.

The Scot has said he will keep mixing it up, however, to ensure his team are never predictable. So should he stick and, if he twists, what are the alternatives?

3-5-2... for and against

Against Southampton, Sunderland started well.

The extra man in defence makes a few key differences that makes them less predictable and more assured on the ball. First and foremost, Billy Jones, one of Sunderland’s better players in the air, can push right up to the halfway line, putting an end to the hopeless long balls from the back and goalkeeper that gift possession straight back to the opposition.

More importantly, the extra centre-half allows those at the back to always have a short option should they come under pressure, which helps Sunderland keep the ball and get a bit higher up the field.

Take, for example, the move which started with Vito Mannone chipping Manolo Gabbiadini and ended with Adnan Januzaj crossing from the Southampton byline.

An unlucky first goal, and a lack of concentration which has nothing to do with shape, sent the Black Cats in 2-0 down. The second half, which saw a switch to a back four, was aimless and insipid.

When Sunderland have been poor, it has been less about the shape and more about the lack of intensity and gameplan – a lack of pressing off-the-ball, poor concentration shown in poor individual mistakes, a lack of movement leading to those long balls.

They will be shown up in any formation.

When Sunderland have been good, the extra man in defence has helped them withstand large amounts of pressure, while Bryan Oviedo looks a natural in the wing-back role.

Keeping Januzaj in a central role has also worked on occasions, the 21-year-old more likely than anyone else in the squad to create chances for Jermain Defoe.

It looks a reasonable fit for the squad Moyes currently has. Might other systems, however, help them press better and higher, and commit more bodies in the opposition box?

With seven games against teams in the bottom half left to play, that is something worth considering.

The system that stifled Liverpool

Aside from that 4-0 defeat of Crystal Palace, Sunderland’s best performance of 2017 came in a superb and, at the time, wholly unexpected 2-2 draw against Liverpool.

David Moyes sprung a surprise by going with a 4-4-2 for that game, with fears that Liverpool’s dynamic and fluid attack would overwhelm them.

That never happened, Didier Ndong, liberated by the absence of a third midfielder, took on the running of two midfielders. Fabio Borini and Seb Larsson put extraordinary shifts in on the flanks, with only Adam Lallana running further in the game.

Januzaj and Defoe worked in tandem, and, while Liverpool created plenty of opportunities, they were more than matched.

The big challenge would be to keep the ball better against lower-placed sides happier to sit deep and let Sunderland come onto them.

A three-man attack

Most Sunderland teams in recent years have shaped up in a 4-3-3 of some form.

It is a system that he has seen them both descend into the abyss and rise out of it against all the odds.

How would it work for Moyes?

First and foremost, it would surely see Fabio Borini back in his best position, playing off the left as an inside forward, with Januzaj on the right. Moyes wants to keep Januzaj central, but the beauty of 4-3-3 is that it can easily become a diamond in possession, Borini moving up front alongside Defoe and Januzaj dropping into the number 10 position.

Perhaps this system would be a good pick when Lee Cattermole or Jan Kirchhoff can be the defensive screen, allowing Didier Ndong to get in advanced positions and press.

Whichever of the three Moyes settles on, the most important part is getting the intensity out of his team every game, in both the pressing, concentration and off the ball organisation.

After that, it is simply a case of finding the balance that best serves a quick transition to attack and getting bodies alongside Defoe.