Lee Johnson's attacking conundrums as Sunderland boss prepares team for Ipswich Town clash

While there has been a growing concern about Sunderland’s defensive capabilities – the team’s attacking performances have also dropped off in recent weeks.

Friday, 12th November 2021, 10:18 am

Following a comfortable 4-0 win over a struggling Crewe side in the middle of October, the Black Cats have scored just once in their last three League One fixtures.

There are several reasons for that, including the identity and approach from opponents, injuries and suspensions, as well as an evident dip in confidence.

Head coach Lee Johnson now has over a week to rectify the issues as his side prepare for next weekend’s big League One clash against promotion rivals Ipswich at the Stadium of Light.

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Here are some of the attacking conundrums the Black Cats boss will face:

Could Stewart and Broadhead play together?

Johnson has predominantly deployed a 4-2-3-1 system this season, which proved effective in the first few weeks of the campaign.

The most memorable exception was when Sunderland played with a front two in the 5-0 hammering of Cheltenham, when Nathan Broadhead played alongside top scorer Ross Stewart.

Sunderland boss Lee Johnson and assistant Jamie McAllister.

That option hasn’t been available to Johnson in recent league games after Broadhead suffered a hamstring injury during the aforementioned win.

The Everton loanee has returned to the fold now, though, and looked sharp against Bradford in the Papa John’s Trophy.

Given Sunderland’s recent struggles at the back, Johnson may have reservations about playing with two strikers, yet he may also feel his side need to take the initiative and get on the front foot.

Can Pritchard and Embleton play in the same team?

A similar dilemma to the one already mentioned.

Johnson spoke earlier in the season about trying to find a way to fit both Alex Pritchard and Elliot Embleton into the same side.

Embleton, who returned from a loan spell at Blackpool, started the season in fine form operating in the No 10 position, a role where Pritchard has impressed at previous clubs.

When the pair have played together, Embleton has often been forced to move to the right, where his influence on games has decreased, while the playmaker’s red card at Gillingham led to a spell out of the team.

Whether Johnson feels the time is right to play with a system that includes two No 10s, which would probably require the side’s full-backs to provide width, remains to be seen.

Can Sunderland find the right balance when playing out from the back?

While we may be looking at the side’s offensive options, Sunderland’s attacking play often starts from the back.

The club’s new philosophy earned praise at the start of the campaign, yet a loss of confidence, as well as teams taking a more physical approach and pressing higher up the pitch, has led to problems.

While Johnson will still be keen for his side to try and pass the ball out of defence, there is obviously a balance to be struck. The team can’t score goals when they are pinned back inside their own half.

Stewart is a towering figure who is effective in the air and can also run into the channels, while Broadhead has shown he can stretch opposition defences with his pace in behind.

That’s not to say Sunderland should completely change their style – perhaps just a few tweaks to address some recent shortcomings.

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