Gus Poyet interview: Black Cats boss looks to strike a compromise

It is ironic that Gustavo Poyet arrived at Sunderland with a reputation among some disgruntled Brighton fans for not having a Plan B

Gus Poyet, Sunderland's head coach
Gus Poyet, Sunderland's head coach

Perhaps he has learned from his time on the South Coast or maybe Sunderland’s unique set of problems has forced him to become a more fluid tactician, but there is no doubt that Poyet has become adept at thinking on his feet at the Stadium of Light.

The latest development of his Black Cats blueprint will not be the tight midfield three that he employed in his early days or a variation of the diamond that he deployed against Southampton. It will be to start playing two up front at home from now on.

“There are things I learned from last week,” he explained ahead of a trip to Arsenal that Poyet claims he is relishing.

“We need to do better at home and one of the biggest things is that we’ve got a great chance in the future to play two strikers. It hasn’t been working with one for some reason.

“Well I say one but it has sometimes been one-and-a-half with Fabio (Borini) coming in. I think (two up front) could be the future – I’m not saying it will, because it depends on the games and if we win the next three and I change things, you’d say I was mad – but it’s an option.

“That’s why we tried it the other day. I’m thinking that because we need to score more goals, we haven’t scored enough and it’s not all about shape and defending.”

It is an interesting development that illustrates much about Poyet’s tactical influences.

Although embracing a Latin philosophy of possession-based football, there are strands of Poyet’s thinking that are undeniably British in origin. His requirements for wingers, for example, are to hug the touchline and be free of some of the defensive responsibilities that have previously hampered Adam Johnson from producing his best football.

Could two up front be more evidence of this? Or is it just a reflection of the fact his existing strikers have not proved capable of ploughing a lone furrow in a prolific way?

Poyet’s thoughts on the return of Steven Fletcher are revealing. The Scotland forward is back from an Achilles injury this weekend and is set to play some part at Arsenal ahead of a probable recall for the Capital One Cup final. Now Fletcher has hardly set the world on fire this season. A sprinkling of admittedly important goals is not the sort of return that you would expect from a finisher of his calibre and the talk of possibly letting him go in January seemed to reflect a diminished reputation in the eyes of the Sunderland manager.

Not so, says Poyet. Explaining the lethargic nature of his performances as partially down to injury, the Sunderland boss suggests that he has a crucial role to play – and even hinted that a move to a striking duo might be a way to squeeze more out of a player who has been asked mostly to play as a lone forward for the Black Cats.

“There’s no doubt (that we’ve not seen the best of him) because he was not training properly. Credit to him that he was able to go on the bench and play,” he said.

“There was a warm-up when everybody asked me where he was during the game, and he was warming up in the dressing room on the bike, to come out and play 20 minutes because it was better for him not to run outside.

“I think that Fletch is going to be one of the players who will benefit most from playing up front because of his game. His game is link play, getting in the box, linking and not only playing just in the penalty area. These are different styles and then you get the manager coming in and playing only one (striker) and then you’ve got a problem. It’s not his problem, it’s me, but it’s important for him as well.” It would be unfair to say that Poyet was running out of patience with his strikers but with none of them having hit double figures yet, there was a more-than gentle reminder that they are playing for their futures in the coming weeks.

Having absolved them of the blame for not scoring when Sunderland began the season in such desperate form, Poyet feels that there are no excuses for the lack of goals in recent months. For everything that Jozy Altidore gives to the team – and he was superb at Newcastle – it would appear he needs to start scoring soon to ensure a place in Poyet’s plans.

“I would like my strikers to get double figures,” Poyet said.

“Somehow they have to get it. If you play 30 games in a season up front, you need to score double figures to be a Premier League player week-in, week-out.

“Then if you’ve got a midfielder that scores double figures, unbelievable, and if you’ve got others who pop up with two or three goals, that’s fantastic.

“To play at this level in a team that is performing in that way, I’m not going to blame anyone that we couldn’t score three goals for three months when we were rubbish.

“Strikers need their turn to play for you to score. I’m not asking them to do everything. I’m just trying to make sure we do the right things.

“If you go August, September, October, we didn’t so it’s not just up to them.

“Last month and a half, we did. I saved them from responsibility for the first three months. I haven’t in the last month and a half. It’s clear. We’ll see. I’m still waiting. I’m seeing better things, okay, every day, because I’ve got the chance to see them every day, but they need to take it into the game.”

Striker Altidore has scored only one Premier League goal but recently USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann suggested that he needed a better standard of team-mate to bring out the best in him. It was suggested that Altidore, who has a phenomenal scoring rate with the US, perhaps needed to play for a top Champions League team to showcase his true ability. Poyet gave that idea short shrift. “Maybe he’s playing a different way for the national team. I went to see him against Scotland and I didn’t see any difference. It was 0-0.”

He continued: “Look, like I said, I had a good record with Chelsea and a rubbish record with Uruguay.

“I was the same player, same boots, same everything, but it didn’t work for me. Maybe this is the opposite case. I understand why. We are all different. Look at (Steven) Pienaar. I absolutely love him from Everton. He went to Spurs and it didn’t work. He went back and he was unbelievable. Can he only play for Everton? No, come on, but it didn’t work for him. Why? Who knows. You don’t know.

“It’s the way you play, the way he understands the players around him. Him and (Leighton) Baines? Outstanding. Different class. One of the best twosomes like that. We normally put two strikers, two defenders together but full-backs and wide men, the best together on the left are Baines and Pienaar.”

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