Is the '˜Wales formation' viable for Sunderland in the long-term? The change of shape dissected
Chris Coleman was quick to assert that his change of shape for the Wolves game was not necessarily a sign of things to come.
With confidence low and so many senior players unavailable, this was always going to be a backs to the wall afternoon and the selection merely mirrored that.
Aiden McGeady had been dropped but there was no indication from Coleman that it was punishment for some poor displays or the error that led to Reading’s opening goal a week previous.
Indeed, with Callum McManaman suspended, the system was a clever way both to offer greater defensive protection against a supremely talented side, and to put Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman in more familiar central areas, rather than shoehorn them into wing roles where their influence has been modest in the past.
The starting XI certainly did mirror the line-up that brought Coleman so much success with Wales, but the approach did not.
It is worth remembering, too, that following the success of Euro 2016, Coleman quickly reverted to playing with four defenders when opponents began to sit deeper.
He has his footballing principles and whatever team he picks, they will look to build from the back.
In shape, however, they will alter time and time again according to the players available and the opponent of the day.
Nevertheless, Coleman will have been immensely encouraged by what he saw at Molineux and there were a number of reasons to think that this is an approach that is worth reproducing in future...
Better protection for ageing legs
Sunderland’s problems this season have been clear for all to see.
Too many players unable to prevent counter-attacks, a lack of energy and pace leaving the side exposed in defence and one-dimensional in attack.
With Duncan Watmore out for the season, it is not a problem that will easily be solved. Josh Maja and Joel Asoro offer great hope in that department but are still learning their trade.
By finding a way to get both Honeyman and Gooch in central areas, the phsyical limitations of Darron Gibson and Lee Cattermole were less exposed.
Of course, Cattermole was booked twice when caught out but Gibson was superb and generally Sunderland were far harder to play through.
If they can replicate that going forward they will find picking up points much easier.
Maintaining that discipline will be far harder at home where Sunderland will have to attack more and push higher, but there is something to be said for doing so from a more stable base, particularly one where the experience of the senior players can be a positive rather than a hindrance.
An answer to the McGeady problem?
Far from pushing McGeady out of the side, the change in shape could actually offer an opportunity for the Irishman.
He remains by far Sunderland’s best creative outlet and moving him to a more central area could give him more freedom and leave the team less exposed should he lose the ball.
Getting him in advanced central areas will also help Sunderland utilise Lewis Grabban’s movement better.
Chris Coleman will know in McManaman and McGeady he has two wingers who – when fit and confident – can make a major difference.
Nevertheless, alongside the industry of Honeyman or Gooch, McGeady could hurt sides as he so often did in the early stages of the season.
Oviedo is a natural wing-back
Earlier in the season Simon Grayson went with three at the back but it was unconvincing in the extreme.
Defensively Sunderland looked confused and were regularly exposed in the spaces behind the wing-backs. The return of Bryan Oviedo did not solve that problem and initially he struggled for form.
In recent times, however, he has been superb and by far the most consistent performer in the side.
He has been defensively robust and a menace in attack, showing good pace and real intent. Once he has returned from injury this role looks like it could be the perfect outlet for his talents.
On the other flank, Adam Matthews has been steady and this department looks like it could become an asset in the second half of the season.
With two crucial home games on the horizon from which Chris Coleman knows he will need at least one win to boost morale, it would be no surprise to see him revert to the shape that almost delivered a 1-0 lead at half-time against Reading.
Indeed, he may even be tempted to find a way to include James Vaughan after an impressive cameo at Burton.
Nevertheless, there is good reason to think that in the short-term search for results, an extra man in defence and central midfield is a good option and might give Sunderland a better balance.
If nothing else, it brings a resilience that is long overdue.