Tactically Speaking

We take a closer look at how Sunderland could line up on Saturday
An in-depth analysis of how Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland might approach Saturday's lunchtime kick-off
As most West Ham United fans will tell you, Sam Allardyce’s first thought when his teams play away from home is to ‘respect the point’.

Unlike some clubs, Big Sam’s will hardly ever travel to an opposition ground and take the game to the hosts from the kick-off. Instead, they will set up to be compact, give nothing away and not make any fatal mistakes in their own half of the pitch.

While that approach might not make for the most entertaining football around, it is pragmatic and, for a club battling to avoid relegation, most likely the most sensible approach at this time.

Sunderland have faced Liverpool and Manchester United – unquestionably stronger sides than the Black Cats on paper – and have come away with an away point at Anfield and three more from a 2-1 home win over the Red Devils.

At Liverpool, Sunderland came from two goals down late on, having thrown on attacking reinforcements, but their victory over Manchester United at the Stadium of Light was a typical ‘Big Sam performance’.

Sunderland lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with a converted centre-half sitting in front of the back four, two combative central midfielders in Yann M’Vila and Lee Cattermole, and a lone centre forward in former Hammer Jermain Defoe.

With deep-lying midfielder Jan Kirchhoff likely to be out injured against West Ham, former England midfielder Jack Rodwell or Sweden’s Ola Toivonen could come in, with M’Villa dropping into a deeper position.

It would be a surprise if Allardyce did not take a similar approach against his old side.

As he did with West Ham last season, Big Sam relied on his players to be compact, hard-working and alert in defensive areas.

When they do get the ball, Sunderland like to get it forward quickly, most often to wide midfielders Dame N'Doye and Wahbi Khazri, or alternatively to rampaging, goal-getting left-back Patrick van Aanholt.

Goalkeeper Vito Mannone will often look to fire clearances in the direction of the former Lokomotiv Moscow man N’Doye, who will line up on the right of the four-man midfield, but look to get forward and support Defoe when the opportunity arises.

At the back, John O’Shea is Sunderland’s defensive leader and captain. The veteran Irishman may not have the mobility he possessed as a younger player, but his strength and desire often make up for his relative lack of pace.

Alongside him, Senegal defender Lamine Kone has already become a cult hero on Wearside after his header led to David de Gea’s own-goal winner against Manchester United. He is also an athletic, strong defender.

Both full-backs are young and quick and love to get forward, but this can leave space in behind them which West Ham could look to exploit.

In the middle of the park, Cattermole appears to have reined in the aggression that got him into trouble with the match officials earlier in his career, and is more likely to stay on his feet these days.

Alongside him, M’Vila is Sunderland’s most influential player. He is good on the ball, strong, positions himself well and does not mind putting his foot into the challenge when required.

Finally, up front, Defoe remains a potent threat at the grand old age of 34. The former England striker has ten goals to his name this season and is never slow when it comes to pulling the trigger in and around the penalty area.

Maybe not quite as quick as he was during his West Ham days, Defoe maintains a hunger to make runs and show for the ball whenever possible.