PAOLO DI CANIO says Sunderland need to banish the habit of defending too deeply.
Di Canio has spent much of his first fortnight on Sunderland’s Academy of Light training ground working on team shape and defensive organisation after watching re-runs of the winless streak which has seen the Black Cats slump to the edge of the relegation zone.
One common denominator Di Canio noticed from the final days of Martin O’Neill’s reign, was Sunderland’s tendency to drop perilously close to their own goal.
The defensive line was more advanced in Di Canio’s first game in charge at Chelsea last weekend, Sunderland only dropping into their own area when fatigue took its toll during the second half.
Di Canio told the Echo: “If you play that deep, it’s difficult – eventually you’re going to concede a goal.
“Of course, you can defend deeply, but that doesn’t mean inside your own box. I have delivered this message to my players.
“The edge of the box is my border-line.
“Forget corner kicks or free-kicks, but in open play, the edge of the box is my border-line, not five yards inside it with midfielders five yards outside.
“From 20 yards now, modern footballers can strike and it goes into the top corner. If it gets a deflection or goes through someone’s legs, then it’s also a goal.
Sunderland’s head coach added: “The players found it easier in the first half at Chelsea.
“For most of the period, the defensive line was 10 yards outside the box and it was easier for them regaining the ball.
“It’s more comfortable to close down players 40 yards from goal, rather than inside your own box.
“The one time we weren’t disciplined in getting back into shape, came from the corner kick when we sent the centre-halves into the box.
“We weren’t well-organised and what happened, they scored. But now we are working together on shape.”
Di Canio believes that defending further up the pitch will also help his side offensively, starting with tomorrrow’s Tyne-Wear derby.
“Newcastle have got quality, especially up front,” he added. “But sometimes they expose themselves so there is space for us.
“We can do a good job and damage them. And it’s difficult to support and go 60 or 70 yards up the pitch if you’re sitting too deep. You need incredible athletes to do that.”