How Patrick Roberts has been hindered by Sunderland’s tactical change ahead of return to Sheffield Wednesday

The last time Sunderland travelled to Sheffield Wednesday Patrick Roberts memorably became the matchwinner.

A 93rd-minute finish in front of a packed-out Hillsborough crowd not only sent the Black Cats to the League One play-off final with a 2-1 aggregate win, but also highlighted the playmaker’s importance to the team.

It’s therefore surprising that, after signing a new two-year deal on Wearside, Roberts has played just 11 minutes in Sunderland’s first two Championship matches, and was an unused substitute in their 3-2 win at Bristol City.

Roberts is expected to start when Alex Neil rotates his side for Wednesday’s Carabao Cup match at Hillsborough, yet the former Manchester City man may be used in a slightly different role.

Patrick Roberts came off the bench for Sunderland against Coventry.


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Sunderland’s use of a back three and wing-backs has been one of the primary reasons why Roberts has found himself on the bench for the last two matches, with Jack Clarke and Lynden Gooch more accustomed to the wide roles in that system.

While Neil said during pre-season he prefers to deploy a 4-2-3-1 set-up, the Black Cats boss has often tried to match up the opposition during his time on Wearside.

The use of wing-backs may be a regular occurrence this season, then, particularly when you consider that 14 of the 24 Championship teams played with a back three on the opening weekend of the campaign.

If that is the case, Roberts may find himself competing for more of a central role as a No 10.


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Neil described the playmaker as 'little magician' when Roberts was deployed in that position after Sunderland’s game at Lincoln last season, yet that was when Alex Pritchard was unavailable due to an injury.

Pritchard has been one of the Black Cats’ standout performers in their opening two Championship matches, making it extremely hard for anyone to displace him at this moment.

Of course we’re just two games into a long and arduous campaign and there will be chances for Roberts to showcase his ability.

A meeting with Wednesday, who like Coventry and Bristol City predmonitely play with a 3-5-2 formation, should provide an opportunity, on a ground where the playmaker has fond memories.