Phil Smith: Leicester have one attribute Sunderland are lacking – and it could be crucial

Jamie Vardy was back to form against Liverpool
Jamie Vardy was back to form against Liverpool
Have your say

There was no earthquake, as there had been a year ago to the day, when Leonardo Ulloa turned home a late winner at the back post, inching ever closer to the title.

Nevertheless, the tremors of Leicester’s reawakening against Liverpool have shaken those at the bottom, none more so than those on Wearside.

Duncan Watmore's pace has been missed by Sunderland

Duncan Watmore's pace has been missed by Sunderland

That surge to a 3-0 lead felt like a House of Cards moment. For weeks Sunderland have been losing, but the gap has remained small, manageable, reachable. With Jamie Vardy emphatically finding his target once more, the foundations of that optimism felt brittle.

It seems melodramatic to say so, but such is life at the bottom of the league.

It may not last for the Foxes. It seems an eternity ago now but a similar performance against Manchester City led most to believe this was the start of a resurgence, a return to normality. Not long before it began to look like an isolated tribute act to last season’s exploits.

Teams will not be so naive defensively as City and Liverpool were.

What Leicester did have on Tuesday night was a formidable combination: raw adrenaline and raw speed.

Quick over the turf, quick to press. The atmosphere in the ground fed off that raw energy and created a hotbed that a lumbering Liverpool had no chance of surviving.

Sadio Mane aside, they were pedestrian.

Pace changes games. Pace stretches defence, exposes their frailties. Pace breaks the lines of even the most carefully constructed formations. Pace excites.

There have been many attributes missing from the squads assembled at the Stadium of Light in recent seasons, but pace is one of the most prominent.

That much was sadly clear at Goodison Park.

The fine old stadium is one of the best places to watch football but for much of Saturday it was subdued, anxious.

That is, until Romelu Lukaku isolated a defender, or Seamus Coleman attacked the byline, or Idrissa Gueye broke the lines with a late surge for the box.

Then you could feel the atmosphere and the anticipation rise.

There were many factors that seperated the two teams, poise on the ball, more concentration in defence, but pace was crucial, as it so often is.

Without Duncan Watmore Sunderland are badly lacking it, and in truth have been for some time. Who was the last Sunderland player to combine quality with true, raw pace?

Stephane Sessegnon, perhaps. Darren Bent was quick into the channels and over short distances; Djibril Cisse genuinely rapid.

For the main, they have been too one-paced and it has prevented them from being able to counter-attack effectively, an absolutely key tactic for teams at the bottom.

Little wonder that Paul Clement and Marco Silva moved so quickly in the transfer market, Clement adding Luciano Narsingh and Martin Olsson, Silva Lazar Markovic, Oumar Niasse and Kamil Grosicki.

Adnan Januzaj has shown it in fleeting moments, an ability to glide past defenders, but it has not been enough to build a team around.

At Everton, the attempts to press, to counter, were clear, but the speed to truly worry the hosts and break up their balanced 4-4-3 was lacking.

Which isn’t to say that eleven players of rapid speed are needed to suceed; Leicester won the title with one of the slowest centre-half pairings the League has ever seen.

It is clear though that whatever division Sunderland find themselves in at the start of next season, an injection of youth, energy and pace is badly necessary.

Leicester’s players have been hammered this week but on Tuesday night interim manager Craig Shakespeare found in his side a potent combination: willing runners and quick runners.

Sunderland do have the former but they are lacking the latter.

Whether this surge of energy will be enough to save Leicester remains to be seen but like Hull, Swansea and Bournemouth, it gives them a big advantage.

That frenzied atmosphere at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday night showed that for the fans, the manager, the football, the points total and even the hard-working senior pros in this Sunderland team, an injection of electricity is long overdue.