It has been a slow and frustrating start to the season on Wearside, entering the festive period Sunderland have won just 3 games. Even the most optimistic of Mackems will admit that has not been true to a club hoping to be around the top half of the league. The season has been made even more disappointing by the form of arch rivals Newcastle. Steve Bruces’ signings had looked good in the summer and well geared towards a push for a European slot – welcoming amongst others Connor Wickham, Seb Larsson and Manchester Utd pair Wes Brown and John O’Shea. The pair were seen by fans as a huge coup for the club, Champions League and Premiership winners, O’Shea the new ‘Mr Reliable’. Wes Brown has performed as most fans had expected, fairly solid (with a few slip ups) but the majority of fans believe that John O’Shea has under-performed.
Adapt and Adjust
12 appearances in to his Sunderland career and we are close to halfway through the season. Last term O’Shea made 18 appearances for Manchester United in total for the season. He has never before been considered the first name on the team sheet, so how is he coping in his new surroundings? And how does he fare around players where he is the leader, the squad senior and experienced (stand in) skipper?
O’Shea missed Sunderlands entire pre-season, making his debut against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. The game ended 0-0 and was the Black Cats’ first clean sheet of the season, in fact O’Shea has played in all four Sunderland shut-outs so far. Two of those have been victories and O’Shea also played in Sunderlands’ other triumph over Blackburn last week. This highlights the importance of O’Shea to Sunderland, something Sunderland fans may have failed to notice.
Interestingly, O’Shea is one of only a handful of ‘successful’ players to leave United with a reputation intact with Red Devils fans while not in the dying embers of their career. Obviously Wes Brown and Phil Neville are others that spring to mind in this collection. One factor that O’Shea will have to deal with is the differences that come with representing a team struggling in the Premier League to one leading the pack. O’Shea has had to adapt his game. Sunderland finished 10th last season so would have been expected to push for a European place; however it hasn’t unfolded as people had predicted.
One of the biggest differences that O’Shea has had to adapt to is how often he needs to win possession for his team. Danny Higginbotham revealed in a recent interview for Football Focus on his move away from Manchester United, his new assistant manager Steve Round at Derby demanded that he improve his fitness. ‘You’re going to be spending more time chasing the ball rather than retaining it’, Round explained to a spread eagled Manchester United graduate. He was ‘waiting to be sick’ after another bleep test.
The statistics show that this is something former United players might struggle with. On a disciplinary level O’Shea has racked up 3 bookings already this season, he only managed 1 yellow card last term. Defensively O’Shea has made the same amount of clearances already as last term (49). Signalling another difference in how often Sunderland are put under pressure and need to defend compared to playing for the league leaders and being camped in the oppositions half. He has surpassed already the amount of long passes he made with United last season -91 with Sunderland and 86 with United. United are a team known for being able to play themselves out of trouble, and it shows compared to Sunderland, and no doubt compared to a lot of other teams in the league.
Sunderlands’ pass completion so far this season is 75%, with O’Shea on the field Manchester United last season reached 81%. O’Shea individually however, has gone backwards in his ability to retain the ball it seems, his passing completion is currently at 72% with Sunderland. He finished last season at 80% for United, whose team figure for the season ended on 81%. He generally retains the ball for his team at less than the teams average and has declined even since then, surprising for such an experienced defender.
Perhaps this is because he has been playing higher up the field in general, last season he made only 169 final third passes, he has already made 210 with Sunderland having played 6 less games which surely means he is more useful going forward, however it does not. O’Shea last season created on average 1.125 chances per game for United, with Sunderland he has averaged just 0.5.
His crossing is another skill he seems to have become less effective with since his transfer, last season 29% of his crosses were successful and found a team mate, this season however he has only reached 19%. He has no assists credited to his name, he managed to set up 3 goals with United last season despite not being a regular starter. Basically, as proven last week against strugglers Blackburn, Sunderland with O’Shea have the players and the ability to keep the ball fairly well, but struggle to use this to create chances or get in to dangerous positions to create. Here lies another realm of the unknown for O’Shea; it is more difficult to break teams down with Sunderland. Manchester Utds’ win percentage last season was 60%, a far cry from the Black Cats’ 18% achieved this season. O’Shea has really had to adjust to find his feet in a team that doesn’t expect to win every match.
There is no doubt that O’Shea is a gifted player, and just like Phil Neville has for Everton, he is sure to become a lynch-pin in the Sunderland first XI. It is worth highlighting that Sunderlands’ blatant need for somebody to put the ball in the back of the net is the reason behind their struggles this season, they have averaged 9.6 chances per game this season, only 1 short of Manchester United. Players like O’Shea need to show quality in leadership in order for a team to pull in the same direction, and on Wearside they will be hoping that is up the league standings. January looms.
All stats in this article are courtesy of the EPLIndex Stats Centre (Subscribe now for access to Opta Stats).
- Good Read