Phil Smith: Hull and Swansea new managers show tactics matter – David Moyes must find a new gameplan now

David Moyes and Paul Bracewell
David Moyes and Paul Bracewell
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Leicester City’s collapse, the latest in a long series, predictably dominated the back pages across Britain on Monday morning.

It is a remarkable unravelling, the Foxes sinking towards the bottom with no sense of direction or strategy. No side in the league had clearer purpose and conviction, now they are listless and without a discernabile gameplan.

Paul Clement

Paul Clement

Equally interesting, however, is the transformation at Swansea City. Their previous three games against Leicester had been appalling, blown apart by the pace and direct running of their opponents.

Their off the ball play is transformed under Paul Clement. In defence they are aggressive, in tune and difficult to penertrate.

Their squad is imbalanced and lacking quality, but a clear gameplan has lifted them to a level that looked beyond them just months ago, when Bob Bradley was completely changing his defence from week to week.

A similar story at Hull City, who sold their best players and replaced them with players whose reputation has been on the floor. Watch the speed of their transition, however, the way they defend as a pack, and they look more like surviving than at any point in the season.

Hull City manager Marco Silva

Hull City manager Marco Silva

They said no one could do better than Mike Phelan with that squad. Clement and Marco Silva has proven that tactics matter. Gameplans matter.

So what was Sunderland’s in that painful second half last Saturday?

Not only were they seemingly absent of ideas in attack, they were passive in defence. The game may already have been up by the time Shane Long slotted home the fourth in stoppage time, but the ease with which Southampton played through their opponents had alarm bells ringing.

The 4-0 win over Crystal Palace was a glorious afternoon to be savoured, but it is the outlier in a trend that emerged in the aftermath of Victor Anichebe’s injury at Turf Moor on New Year’s Eve.

Sunderland do not seem to have a way of playing, or particular conviction when attacking or defending. That is increasingly apparent when the pressure is on to chase games.

In part it is due to a simple lack of options, Steven Pienaar never likely to turn a game around on his own at this stage of his career.

True, too, that strides seemed to have been made not just at Selhurst Park but days previous when the Black Cats landed an impressive 0-0 draw against Spurs.

The 3-5-2 was adding a bit of defensive resilience, lifted by the return of Lamine Kone and Didier Ndong.

While the speed of the counter was poor against Tottenham, it was much improved against Crystal Palace.

All it took, however, was one goal for a good start against Southampton for the familiar gremlins to return. The ideas to turn it around did not seem to be there either on the pitch or in the dugout. In just half an hour it was back to the long balls fromt he back. Players static up front and at the back, any signs of proactive pressing all but evaporated.

Show such passivity and carelessness in defence against Manchester City and the goal difference will take a significant hammering.

After that is a critical run of four fixtures that Sunderland will need at least two wins from to have realistic designs of beating the drop.

Finding the solutions is not beyond David Moyes and his backroom staff. After a wretched start to the season, the 4-3-3 they settled on was highly unorthorodox but very impressive, Anichebe’s unusual roving role on the left bringing the best out of those around him.

It has been unfortunate to lose not just the Nigerian, but Duncan Watmore too, whose relentless running was a key link between Anichebe and Defoe.

Since then Sunderland have been floundering, that three minute burst in the capital last weekend aside.

The surge in commitment, running, pressing and conviction at Swansea and Hull is no surprise; Sunderland have seen that new manager bounce in each of the last five seasons.

Whether Silva and Clement can sustain those levels long-term remains to be seen, but in the short-term the Black Cats need to find a method of their own.

A lack of one is why they, Crystal Palace and Leicester look in the biggest danger of the drop.