WHEN Gus Poyet first arrived on Wearside, one of the first things asked of him was whether or not he had a “Plan B”.
He stated that he was actually curious about the English obsession with the concept of it, and that you should aim to have a system that works without the need for an alternative.
Immediate concerns that he’d try to get that group of players to keep possession of the ball at length were extinguished when he assured us all it would be crazy to try and make that transition in one go.
He then played two strikers in the home derby and left out players such as Ki and Borini (at least from the start). It was a pragmatic, and ultimately successful, approach that yielded a much-needed and confidence-boosting win.
His dismissal of a Plan B prior to this seemed even more odd from that point, this was clearly no one-trick-pony.
But since he’s had his side set up to his satisfaction – in this 4-3-3/4-5-1/4-1-4-1 or however you want to translate it – and playing the patient build-up game, he’s not really budged that much (ignoring the brief and disastrous 3-5-2 experiment).
He’s historically made some match-winning/saving substitutions though and in doing so shuffles the system quite subtly and slightly from the default setting. Perhaps he feels the concept of a Plan B indicated changes made would be far too radical for his liking, and that staying largely with your beliefs is important.
Some fans bemoaning the powder-puff image of the Black Cats this season, however, have been calling for those radical changes, hoping that they can bring some much-needed goals. I suggested here post-Leeds that a Plan B or C may be needed if things continue as they are; if the return of the attacking full-backs don’t change the dynamic of our side that much.
But I really think they will.
After the enthralling and breathtaking season we had last year, a campaign of slow progression was always likely to frustrate when watching it on a game to game basis, even though it is highly necessary. But, boy, it’s been slow alright.
Yet, because Gus won’t divert from his system on a large scale, the absence of those attacking full-backs has been huge. For all the admirable efforts of Vergini and Reveillere, they will never bomb on as required in this set-up.
Because of this, the midfielders have been searching for angles that don’t exist, they’ve been looking for through balls that aren’t there. Having Billy Jones and Patrick van Aanholt provide some much-needed width will open up additional space for our midfielders to operate in, as well as being able to offer their own movement as an extra outlet.
If it doesn’t start to click into the place for Gus after that, then we’ll see how open he is to change.
But, not wanting to get too ahead myself, I’m really looking forward to seeing the initial impact it does make. Hopefully it will never come to questioning the manager, and I’m sure it won’t.
We could do with an easier game tomorrow to try get the ball rolling in that respect.
Though Liverpool are struggling in comparison to last season, they’re still a better side than Sunderland and should provide extremely tough opposition.
That said, I think their likely employment of wing backs could see us bear some fruit going forward; Jordan Henderson and Lazar Markovic aren’t exactly renowned for their defensive capabilities. Win this and our season could really take off.
I’m sure I’ve said this before!
* The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Gus Poyet. You can be stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.