Tuesday 23 January 2018 / 11:08 PM

Saving Sunderland Big Sam’s biggest challenge

For the last 20 years, if you’ve needed a manager to save your team from the drop, the same names have cropped up time and time again.

One such name is of course, Mr Sam Allardyce, and unsurprisingly, Big Sam has been ushered into the Sunderland hot seat in recent weeks to try and save the Wearside club from relegation.

Given Sam’s track record, one might think that Sunderland staying up is now a pretty safe bet, but if you actually watch Sunderland, it becomes a much more difficult gamble.

The fact of the matter is that Sunderland are rotten, and their latest mauling at the hands of Everton has cemented their position in second bottom; with Aston Villa the only team more awful than the Black Cats.

The question is: has Sam bitten off more than he can chew this time?

For the last three seasons, Sunderland’s Achilles Heel has been their comically poor defence; and given Allardyce’s defensive coaching prowess, it was absolutely no surprise to see the ex-West Ham boss come in to replace Dick Advocaat.

But after a thrashing by Everton, Sam may now reappraise his side’s chances of staying up, because they really were nothing short of awful.

Shipping six goals in the Premier League is never good, but to do it to a team like Everton, a team that has not been firing on all cylinders, is nothing short of embarrassing.

If anyone is able to steer Sunderland out of murky waters, it’s probably Allardyce, but even he will be concerned.

The trouble when a side is this poor defensively, managers are often tempted to play around with the team, and that’s exactly what Sam did on Sunday.

It’s understandable that the big manager is keen to experiment in order to find a winning formula for struggling, but his experimental formation against Everton was asking for trouble. There’s little doubt that he’s looked at the paucity of his defensive options and tried to find a way to field his strongest side, but on Sunday it simply didn’t work.

What Sam needs to do is play to his strengths. Rather than trying too hard and fielding three at the back, Sam should go to what he knows – his signature brand of 4-5-1 that has proved so successful over the years.

If Sam is to keep Sunderland up, it will be one of the great escape stories of the Premier League era, but he must go back to basics and play to his strengths if he is to give them any chance.

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Seb Greenwood

CBS’s longest-serving contributor, Englishman Seb is our leading football correspondent, pulling no punches with his opinions on the Premier League and the international scene.

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