It’s quite odd that in some circles Sunderland’s near draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford this past Saturday is being heralded as a massive achievement. What I saw was one of the most negative and anti-soccer performances in ages.
For the entire 90 minutes, Sunderland “parked their bus” in front of their goal and had ten, sometimes eleven, players blocking any advances made by Manchester United.
It almost worked except for a lucky bounce against the post that fell into the path of Nemanja Vidic who slotted in the late winner to give all three points to United.
This was a match that reminded me a lot of Manchester United’s opening game of last season when they drew 0-0 against Reading at Old Trafford. At that time, it seemed that Steve Coppell was hailed as the second coming. Of course, we all know that Reading’s season went downhill from there and they ended up getting relegated. So much for that one point that Reading achieved by playing negative football.
Sunderland’s tactics this past Saturday against Manchester United were painfully obvious. The Black Cats often had eight players in their penalty area, blocking Man United’s advances down the middle. You could say that their formation was a 8-1-1 with Djibril Cisse being the lone man up front. Even Cisse could be seen in Sunderland’s penalty area defending at times, too.
The sad but funny aspect of Sunderland’s tactics was that on the rare occasions when they start dribbling the ball in Manchester United’s half, the Sunderland players slowed down the tempo to allow players to catch the breath and to keep possession of the ball, at least for a few minutes. Most teams would relish the chance of attacking the opposition in the opponent’s half. Not Sunderland.
While Sunderland is no Manchester United, they do have enough quality on their team to at least try to win a match and play more attacking football. Take the case of Wigan’s performance against Arsenal from this weekend when Wigan played a contained game but at least tried to win the match. The scoreline was the same in both games, but Wigan walked away with their heads held up high after a spirited performance. The result may have been different if Wigan had worn their shooting boots Saturday.
Contrast Sunderland’s performance against Manchester United with that of Hull City. The Yorkshiremen played a lot more open game and came so close to drawing after a sensational comeback.
Yes, Sunderland played well against Manchester United if you consider that they followed interim-manager Ricky Sbragia’s instructions to a tee. They threw themselves into tackles, blocked a ton of shots and saved plenty of attempts at goal courtesy of Marton Fulop. But for the neutral observer, where’s the enjoyment in watching a team play such negative anti-football?
If Sunderland can take something out of the game, it’s that the club still has a lot of fight left in it and that their defense has improved significantly since the last match when they lost 4-1 at home against Bolton Wanderers. The other benefit for Sunderland is the hope that their team spirit has been restored.
The next huge test is this Saturday when Sunderland plays at home against West Bromwich Albion, another team in trouble of being relegated.
What is worrisome for Manchester United, meanwhile, is that more clubs will employ similar tactics like Sunderland. United, no matter how hard they tried, couldn’t seem to break down the wall of defenders that blocked their path toward goal. Even the combination of Rooney, Berbatov, Ronaldo, Anderson and Tevez couldn’t break down the Sunderland defense until Vidic tapped in the shot.
What are your thoughts about this past Saturday’s performance by Sunderland against Manchester United? Click the comments link below to share your feedback.