Wycombe's biggest strengths and weaknesses which Sunderland boss Alex Neil will be preparing for ahead of League One play-off final

Ever since his appointment at Sunderland back in February, large parts of Alex Neil’s team selection has been determined by the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.

Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 4:59 pm

Up until the second leg of their play-off semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday, the Scot hadn’t named an unchanged starting XI, despite losing just once since arriving on Wearside.

Saturday’s play-off final against Wycombe will provide a different test, though, not least because Sunderland will be seen as favourites in many peoples’ eyes.

While the possession against Wednesday in the second leg was split 50/50, Neil’s side will be expected to dominate the ball against Wycombe.

Ryan Tafazolli of Wycombe Wanderers celebrates after scoring against MK Dons. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

On average The Chairboys have recorded just 44.9 per cent possession in League One this season (according to Wyscout) – with only five teams (all of which finished in the bottom half) below them.

In terms of their shape it will be interesting to see how manager Gareth Ainsworth sets his side up.

While Wycombe started the season playing with a back three and wing-backs, they consistently operated in a 4-2-3-1 formation during a 13-match unbeaten run – which was ended by a 1-0 defeat at MK Dons in the second leg of their play-off semi-final.

Still, the side’s style has been consistent.

While Wycombe didn't see as much of the ball as their League One rivals, their expected goals figure (76.94) was the third highest in the division– behind only Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday.

Ainsworth encourages his side to get the ball forward quickly and they have often been able to sustain attacks in the final third.

Wycombe’s average passing rate of 9.8 per match was the joint lowest in League One along with Gillingham, while top scorer Sam Vokes (who has scored 17 League One goals this season) has provided an effective focal point and has competed in more aerial duels than any other player in the division (23.26 per 90 minutes).

Clearly Wycombe will look to play the ball to Vokes at every opportunity (they are also ranked third when it comes to number of crosses in League One), while players such as Garath McCleary, Daryl Horgan and Jordan Obita will back up the play.

And as Sunderland found out at Adam’s Park in January, with the excellent deliveries from Joe Jacobson, Ainsworth’s side also carry a significant threat from set-pieces.

Only Sheffield Wednesday (17) and Wigan (15) scored more goals directly from corners than Wycombe in the regular League One season. Sunderland will have to be wary of that.

Still, while the side finished sixth in the table with 83 points, Wycombe’s approach does have drawbacks.

If you watched The Chairboys hold onto their lead and see off MK Dons last time out, you may get the impression they have a strong defensive unit - which can sometimes be the case.

Centre-backs Anthony Stewart and Ryan Tafazolli both impressed against The Dons yet, when the side becomes stretched, Wycombe’s rearguard can be pulled apart.

Ainsworth’s side have conceded an average of 10.83 shots per 90 minutes in League One, with only seven teams facing more.

The Chairboys also surrender possession cheaply and have recorded the highest number of ball losses in the third tier.

How Neil sets Sunderland up to try and expose Wycombes weaknesses, while guarding against their obvious strengths, will be fascinating to watch.