How Charlie Wyke became Sunderland's go-to striker and the changes that have unlocked his best form
In pre-season, the focus was largely on Will Grigg.
The high-profile signing came back in fine shape, and was handed an opportunity to impress in pre-season.
That he did, scoring a fine goal against Harrogate Town and putting in some encouraging performances.
Then came Danny Graham – a player Phil Parkinson had pursued for much of the summer and was expected to be his go-to forward for large spells of the campaign.
Yet the name that went under the radar for much of the summer was Charlie Wyke – whose mixed performances in the early weeks of the season saw him slide down the pecking order.
But now, he's the man who has now established himself as the Black Cats’ first-choice striker.
Indeed, the seven goals Wyke has netted already this term is a return that betters his goal-haul for the last two seasons.
So how has he done it, what has been the key to his turnaround, and what is next for the in-form frontman?
Parkinson has long lauded Wyke’s work-rate, and his desire to do the work he requires of his number nine – namely pressing, stretching the backline and linking the play.
His heat-maps show how he’s able to pick up possession out wide and create space in the middle for runners for midfield, while he’s winning considerably more aerial duels and flick-ons this term (54.8% so far this season, compared to 43.3% in 2019/20).
But this term, we’ve seen the striker couple that work-rate with an extra threat in and around the area.
That’s evidenced in his heat-maps where we can see Wyke has seen plenty of the ball in the area.
His stats show that he is providing much more of an attacking output this term, too. His xG per game is up from 0.45 last season to 0.62 this season, while Wyke is also mustering more shots per game than during the 2019/20 campaign (2.74 in 2020/21, compared to 1.76).
More of those shots are finding the target then they did last season too.
So it’s no surprise that as a result, the goals have flowed.
So what has allowed Wyke to find the net on a more regular basis?
Speaking to the Echo in 2018, Keith Curle – who oversaw Wyke’s most productive season to date at Carlisle United – said simplicity was the key to getting the striker scoring.
"The team needs to put balls in the box,” he said.
And Sunderland are certainly doing that this season. The Black Cats are averaging 24.38 crosses per game during the current campaign, up from 19.12 last year, and Wyke is reaping the benefits of that increased service.
Crucially, the success rate of these crosses is increasing too.
Sunderland have placed a great deal of emphasis on getting crosses into the box this season, and that change in tact has certainly played its part in Wyke’s fine goal return.
For now, Wyke looks set to continue leading the line for Sunderland in League One – although Graham and Grigg may well benefit from chances in the upcoming cup fixtures.
Yet they will have work to do to prove that they should unplace Wyke as the club’s go-to striker.
Indeed, speaking after the win over Ipswich, Parkinson backed the striker to keep on scoring.
"It's just another goal for Chaz and his tally keeps ticking over,” said the Sunderland boss.
“Since his slow start, I think it's fair to say in pre-season he wasn't his best, the goals have started to come.
“Charlie is all about the all-round performance we want from him and when he does that the goals will keep coming for him.”