Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce sprung a surprise at Goodison Park on Sunday, unveiling a new-look formation.
Whether you see it as a 5-3-2 or a 3-5-2, Allardyce had opted for three central defenders and wing-backs for the Premier League match with Everton.
On paper, it looked a promising plan, with the aim to get the most out of attack-minded wing-backs Patrick Van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin while the system also allowed Allardyce to name Jermain Defoe and Steven Fletcher in the same side.
But the Black Cats, despite a promising start, were on the end of a 6-2 thrashing come the final whistle.
Allardyce said afterwards: “It didn’t matter what system we played at 2-2.
“If players decide to go and do what they want, and not do the right things, then the system doesn’t matter.
“You’ve got to be in there doing your best, in and out of possession as a team.”
So, ahead of the visit of Southampton to the Stadium of Light on Saturday, should the Black Cats scrap the new-look formation or persist with it as they battle against relegation this season?
Sunderland reporters Chris Young and Richard Mennear have their say here:
Chris Young: Allardyce shouldn’t scrap new-look formation, just yet:
When Jermain Defoe first arrived at the Stadium of Light in January, Gus Poyet’s gut reaction was to use the England striker in a 3-5-2.
Poyet had seen Brendan Rodgers successfully use that ploy at Liverpool to accommodate Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, and thought it would provide more solidity than if he incorporated Defoe into an orthodox 4-4-2.
After pondering over Defoe’s inclusion for several weeks, Sam Allardyce clearly went through a similar thought process, albeit he perhaps also opted for three central defenders to lend the rusty Wes Brown a helping hand.
Like Poyet, Allardyce’s opening experiment with 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2 depending on how you want to dress it) culminated in defeat... and a brutal one at that.
Yet it shouldn’t necessarily be confined to the scrap heap.
In Patrick van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin, Allardyce has the perfect candidates for wing-backs – if they manage to actually learn when to attack and when to defend – while, crucially, the system allows Defoe to play in the position he was made for.
Despite the rankness of their defending, Sunderland looked a constant goal threat at Goodison Park, with Defoe, Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson operating just behind him.
A total of 17 efforts – 12 of which were on target – is a staggering tally away from home, for a team in Sunderland’s league position.
If Allardyce can introduce a more regimented defensive unit – surely one which will require January reinforcements – then there is plenty to play with.
That’s an almighty ‘if’ hanging over the formation though.
Richard Mennear: Goodison horrow show can’t be repeated:
In the media room at Goodison Park, Allardyce spoke at length about the new system he had deployed and the merits of it.
“If players decide to go and do what they want, and not do the right things, then the system doesn’t matter,” he reflected.
This is, of course, true.
Sunderland’s last line of defence, and the holding midfielders in front, went missing in the second-half leaving the Black Cats woefully exposed. Everton tore them to shreds.
Allardyce laid the blame squarely at the feet of those players who showed a lack of understanding and discipline after clawing the game back to 2-2.
But how much of a part did the system play?
Sunderland had gone into the game on the back of the morale-boosting 3-0 derby win and with it that all important first clean sheet of the season.
In that game Sunderland started with a 4-2-3-1 before quickly switching to 4-4-2 with the introduction of Jermain Defoe.
It helped transform the game and Sunderland were clinical in front of goal.
Injuries had, of course, hampered Allardyce’s options, with John O’Shea and Younes Kaboul ruled out defensively.
But why, when struggling Sunderland should surely be trying to simplify things, change the whole formation on the back of a home win and clean sheet?
l Yes, the wing-backs looked dangerous going forward.
But defensively Van Aanholt and Yedlin were all over the place, and a lack of understanding/communication/positional sense as a result of the new system allowed Gerard Deulofeu in for the softest of opening goals.
l Was the back three, in part, to protect a returning Wes Brown?
Even with three at the back, rusty Brown was left exposed and Lukaku took him apart, while full-back Billy Jones didn’t look comfortable in the centre.
l Yes, Steven Fletcher, Adam Johnson and Jermain Defoe impressed.
But it doesn’t matter how good Sunderland looked going forward if they can’t defend properly. Their efforts were in vain.
For me, the system would have worked far better if O’Shea and Kaboul had been playing.
Until they are fully fit, I’d be tempted to scrap the new-look formation as Sunderland don’t have the depth or quality in reserve to cope with it defensively.