Tactically speaking - Sunderland

Tactically speaking - Sunderland

West Ham United head to the North East seeking to extend their impressive recent run to one defeat in their last ten Barclays Premier League matches.

The Hammers have won two of their previous four away games in the top-flight, scoring a 3-1 success at Burnley before drawing 2-2 at Stoke City and recording a 2-1 victory at West Bromwich Albion either side of a narrow 2-1 defeat at Everton.

Hosts Sunderland, meanwhile, have drawn four and lost one of their last five league games, holding Chelsea and Liverpool to goalless stalemates in recent weeks.

The bookmakers are unable to split the two sides ahead of Saturday's Stadium of Light clash, so how could the match be won and lost?

West Ham United

West Ham United have paired up with football stats website WhoScored.com to preview Saturday's Barclays Premier League meeting with Sunderland.

The Hammers improved their grip on a top-four spot at the weekend with a resounding 3-1 win over Swansea City and the east London side will look to continue their good run of form when they make the lengthy trip to Sunderland this weekend. The Black Cats are currently on a five-game winless run in the Premier League and their chances of turning their fortunes around does not get any easier with the welcome of West Ham.

Only Manchester City (17) and Chelsea (15) have taken more points away from home in England's top tier this season than West Ham (eleven).

A resurgent Andy Carroll played a crucial role in the victory over the Swans, helping himself to a brace in the fixture, but Sunday's win also marked Diafra Sakho's return to league duties. The Senegalese made his first Premier League appearance in a little under a month against Swansea, coming on from the bench at half-time to replace Enner Valencia, and he netted late on.

Sakho has scored more Premier League goals (seven) than any other West Ham player this season, and is currently the Hammers' third-highest rated player (7.30). With 'finishing' a statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of his, Sunderland need to be wary of the striker's goalscoring prowess.

Only a handful of teams have shipped more goals in the Premier League this season than Sunderland (23), while the Black Cats have conceded at least once in four of their last five home league games. Sakho, meanwhile, has scored in each of his last three away appearances for West Ham, so one would not bet against the 24-year-old adding to his Premier League tally on Saturday.

Sakho has been one of the signings of the season so far and his stock will rise further if he can add to his already impressive goal tally on Saturday and in the process help West Ham to their ninth league win of the campaign.

*WhoScored.com is a website and one of the fastest growing in the sports industry, specialising in the in-depth analysis of detailed football data. Follow @WhoScored on Twitter.


Possible starting XI


Vergini  O'Shea  Brown  Reveillere


Johnson  Larsson  Gomez  Wickham


The formation

Gus Poyet favours a 4-1-4-1 formation, with a deep-lying defensive midfielder shielding his back four and a lone striker. Sunderland's rigid formation has seen them become the Barclays Premier League's draw specialists, with nine of the Black Cats' opening 15 league matches ending with the scores level.

The shape has made Sunderland a more difficult team to break down in recent months, but arguably at the expense of the team's attacking potency.

Sunderland are near the bottom of the table when it comes to a number of attacking measurables - their total goals scored (13), shots per game (10.5) and crosses per game (18) are all only good enough for third-worst in the top-flight.

The Black Cats do try to play with width, with talented wingers and full-backs who are willing to join the attack when the opportunity arises, but Sunderland clearly struggle to keep possession of the ball in the opposition half, and to create and convert chances.

The playing style

As mentioned above, Sunderland do not play a particularly expansive brand of football. Instead, Poyet's has attempted to solidify a defence that conceded 60 goals last season. Aside from the odd bad day at the office - including an 8-0 defeat at Southampton and 4-1 home loss at the hands of Manchester City - the Black Cats have tightened things up at the back.

If you remove the 12 goals conceded in those two games, Sunderland have conceded eleven goals in the other 13, keeping five clean sheets along the way.

Defensively, it is in the centre of the pitch where Sunderland are strongest, with the physically imposing John O'Shea and Wes Brown dominant in the air at centre-back and Liam Bridcutt sitting deep in front of them.

While Poyet has stifled the flow of goals into his own team's net, that has come at the expense of scoring them at the other end. Only Burnley and Aston Villa, with ten each, have scored less than Sunderland's 13.

Style-wise, Sunderland play on the counter-attack, even at home, with the wide midfielders Johnson and Wickham leading the charge. Both are strong runners with the ball at their feet and are keen to cut inside and shoot from their respective wings. Wickham is also a target for long diagonal balls out from the defence or midfield.

When they do have possession, Sunderland are also keen to play off centre forward Jozy Altidore. The American is big and strong and will challenge for the ball in the air or hold it up with his back to goal before bringing his team-mates into play.

Sunderland are a big team, both in defence and in attack, which makes them a threat from set pieces.

The players

Romanian Costel Pantilimon appears to have usurped Vito Mannone as Sunderland's first-choice goalkeeper. Tall at 6'6, Pantilimon is not afraid to come for crosses, has safe hands and is capable of making all types of saves.

Across the back four, Sunderland are big. At centre-back, the experienced O'Shea and Brown know each other's games inside out. Captain O'Shea is dominant in the air, uses the ball well and leads the team both figuratively and vocally. More mobile than his former Manchester United colleague, Brown is also strong in the air.

At full-back, Argentine Santiago Vergini is tall at 6'3 and less mobile than most, while left-back Anthony Reveillere is an experienced player at 35, but is also less mobile than his younger counterparts. That said, both are solid defenders.

In midfield, former Brighton player Bridcutt uses the ball intelligently and will collect it from the back four when given the time and space to do so.

Johnson is a livewire left-sided winger who Poyet is deploying in a right-wing role. Keen to cut inside onto his stronger foot, the 27-year-old can dribble at will and delivers wickedly from open play and set pieces.

Sebastian Larsson fills the right central midfield role and often loops outside Johnson when the winger cuts infield. Blessed with a fine right foot, the Swede can strike for goal from any range.

Jordi Gomez is the left central midfielder. A neat and tidy player, the Spaniard is also a threat to shoot from distance with his left foot.

Wickham has filled a wide left role in recent weeks and has impressed with his strength and ability to carry the ball forward. A hard worker, Wickham never gives up a lost cause and will challenge strongly for the ball in the air.

Altidore is a target man who keeps the game simple when possible. Another strong physical specimen, he holds the ball up well and can turn and run with it when given time and space.

Of the other options available to Poyet, perhaps combative central midfielder Lee Cattermole is the most likely to be involved if the Uruguayan makes changes. Jack Rodwell could also be involved in place of Gomez.

Going forward, Argentina international Ricardo Alvarez is a creative talent who has recently returned from injury, while former Brighton winger Will Buckley is more pacey and direct. Up front, Scotland striker Steven Fletcher has been struggling with a back injury and was on the bench last weekend.