Think back to a time not too long ago. Newcastle United was coming off of a 3-0 defeat to Everton. Two weeks prior, they had labored to a 1-0 victory at Aston Villa. There were some distinct similarities in these two matches with regards to the tactics employed against our defense, and we could very well be in for more of the same on Sunday.
Both Aston Villa and Everton spent their fair share of time lumping the ball up to a forward (Christian Benteke or Romelu Lukaku) who in turn controlled, distributed backward and looked for return passes.
We have a pretty clear idea of what new Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat will want to do against Newcastle, and there are some pretty clear ways that he can attempt to get it accomplished. It will be a matter of how well we manage to deal with it.
Advocaat's formation preference
The Dutchman prefers a 4-3-3 formation and employed the same in his first match in charge (v. West Ham). He has deployed his forwards in this formation in two main ways. Really, he couldn't go very far wrong either way he sets up. If he goes for a similar setup to what he used against the Hammers, he would have Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham on the outside providing service in to Jermaine Defoe and also tucking in to provide attack behind the main striker. Alternately, he could employ either Wickham or Fletcher as the center forward with Defoe and now available Adam Johnson in the outside-inside role which given Johnson's propensity for long distance missiles is not an attractive concept in and of itself.
In the matches against Villa and Everton, Newcastle first dealt well with such a tactic and then not so very well. Newcasle's makeshift defensive line (which performed well against Arsenal in the run of play) and defensive midfielders – likely Jack Colback and Mehdi Abeid – will have to be assignment sound and aware of the movements of the outside forwards as well as the midfielders who will look to bomb into the space created by the movement of the forwards. And that's just while the ball is in play.
Also of concern
It has felt like a very very long time since Newcastle last took the pitch. Let me refresh you on what happened the last time out: We gave up two goals to Arsenal. Both came from set pieces. If I'm Advocaat, I prefer the front line of Wickham, Defoe, Fletcher for just this reason. If John Carver hasn't been able to instill some ability to deal with free kicks and Advocaat does go this route, it could be a very very long derby. With another week for Daryl Janmaat to get used to his shifted defensive responsibilities as cover for our captain, perhaps we don't lose track of the aerial threats that Fletcher and Wickham provide.
If Sunderland win the derby, you will undoubtedly have seen breakdowns in one or more of these areas, and the sad thing is that it's not hard to imagining either happening. It is, however, just as easy to see us somehow managing as we did against Villa and putting something important together. So that was enough of this negative stuff. Next time around, we'll get happy again.