Jozy Altidore got his first league start for Sunderland yesterday, and as is sometimes the case, I broke out the pen and pad to notch up a variety of stats.
Let's just end the non-existent suspense and blurt out that Altidore rang up a grand total of zero in the following categories: shots/shots on target, area entries (via dribble or pass completed to teammate), shot assists, and most annoyingly, defenders beaten on the dribble. No, I do not count the nutmeg on Touré because he did not keep the rock from it. He also only managed a single high-pressure harassment of note.
That may all sound entirely dire for the US striker, but do factor in that he was picked out with a pass facing the area exactly once, found in the area with a pass zero times and never the end target of combo play (for the record, he was the hyphen between give and go on three occasions). Altidore also worked just 70 minutes before departing, and spent the last 10 of them out of left wing.
Still, it remains readily apparent that he is probably the biggest team player on Sunderland, and that he needs to dial that typically admirable trait back a few notches if he ever expects to score in their shirt. Sure, most of their good moves and threatening poses from yesterday came through his grunt work in some way. But he could have had two passes facing the area, but inexplicably dummied one when you would imagine he'd simply let rip first-time if in a USMNT shirt. This came late in his shift, when a goal might have won the day.
Look, he doesn't need to turn into Connor Wickham, who usually seems oblivious to the fact he has nine field mates out there. But there is a lot of space to explore between there and how he plays now. The time for proving he can do the heavy lifting, defender-occupying and space-granting for his team in the Prem is well done. The time to prove he can take over a big moment has long since passed and we're still waiting. C'mon Jozy... unleash the Kraken on these fools already.
First half: Successful on 7 of 10
Second half: 1 of 2
These count the times he receives with a man draped on him, in a crowd or in the act of a physical motion that makes corralling a pass difficult. Three out of the four Altidore fails here came on what I have identified as the biggest hole in his first touch game: incoming balls that bounce upward to waist-level or higher. He tends to try to baby the pass, letting the ball attack him rather than the preferred other way around. But overall, it was a decent enough game in this area.
First half: 4
Second half: 3
This category includes all wayward touches and dribble flubs. It does not include fouls, offside flags or incomplete passes. Handling tough touches is great; it's even better when you don't flub a few easier ones. Altidore did, and he also had a few weak dribble attempts. I get that he had an unusually high number of midfield touches on Saturday and that he was often alone up top, but it was still too many fumbles. In fact, that sum of seven was three more total turnovers than he'd suffered in his last 88 minutes of EPL action (and three of those opponents were Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal). Yeah, definitely too much.
First half: Won 5 of 6
Second half: 3 of 3
None of that is a typo. Yes, Mr. "Can't Play in the Air" himself won eight of nine air challenges. He routinely took the Reds center back duo of Škrtel (50% air duels won) and Touré (14%) for a ride in the unfriendly skies. Once, he flashed through the both of them to complete a perfectly-weighted lateral flick that sprung Sunderland into attack (well... as much as they can "spring" into attack, that is). FYI: Despite each having a height advantage and a large minutes played edge on Altidore, Fletcher and Wickham are each averaging just under three air wins per appearance.
Hold-Up PlaysFirst half: 10
Second half: 2
For me to scratch one down here, Altidore must a) have back at least somewhat to goal & b) he must complete the pass portion of the play to keep possession going. And it cannot be a positive pass, either; if he accepts with back to goal, spins and releases a teammate forward, I do not count it in this column. Long story short regarding Saturday, without Altidore's ace hold-up work, Sunderland do not come close to the possession edge they held for the first 55 minutes of this game. And amazingly, only one of these plays came during the opening nine minutes of both halves. I swear, sometimes, it seems like this Sunderland team doesn't realize how to play this game until they accidentally do something standard that works.
Pressure Valve Plays
First half: 3
Second half: 1
This tallies the plays when Altidore helped Sunderland out of the back and across midfield. And it is much the same concept as using your striker for hold-up work, just not as far up the field. Apparently, Sunderland have yet to truly stumble onto this tactical opportunity. Half of these four came when they lobbed a long ball he had little chance of corralling and did it anyway. It has been a year-and-a-half and they still cannot figure out to hit him in stride with passes along the ground. Anywhere on the field.
- Greg Seltzer