Four ways Sunderland could line up after window signings
If Simon Grayson is likely to still have numerous concerns about his Sunderland squad, the lack of strikers, the bad habits after conceding a goal two of many, then deadline day has at least given him some different options.
The arrival of three new players, and the departure of two who he quite clearly did not feel able to trust with any significant role in the side, should open the door to greater rotation and greater flexibility when it comes to tactics and formations.
A pragmatist by nature, it is an opportunity he will be more than happy to take up.
Grayson will be boosted too by the imminent return of three talented young players for whom he sees bright futures in both the short and long-term.
Josh Maja is one, a vibrant forward who took his chance emphatically in pre-season and would have had a good chance of starting the season had injury not intervened.
Paddy McNair and Duncan Watmore are the others, a duo who were finding their feet in the Premier League as Sunderland hinted at a winter revival under David Moyes.
Jack Rodwell, too, will be hoping to be considered for selection after overcoming pre-season injury problems.
That would make for seven additions to the spine of a squad that started the season well before running out of steam just before the international break.
It is a squad light in one or two areas, but one that should certainly be able to compete. It will be interesting to see how Grayson’s strongest side takes shape over the coming months, now that he has the options to use the various different systems used in pre-season more regularly.
Potential side: Ruiter; Jones, Browning, Kone, Oviedo; Wilson; McManaman, Ndong, Cattermole, McGeady; Grabban.
Sunderland’s implosion at Oakwell saw some long-term failings rear their head again. An inability to stay in games after conceding goals, especially when against the run of play, and a loss of composure on the ball and in defensive positioning.
It also, however, showed the limitations that can sometimes come with a two man midfield. Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong offer great energy but their eagerness to press can leave Sunderland’s defenders short on protection, particularly against sides who play with an extra midfielder as Barnsley did.
The addition of Marc Wilson, a limited player in creative terms but an excellent one in terms of consistency and discipline, could offer that much needed experience and resilience in front of a defence that Simon Grayson himself says has not always been particularly well supported by those in front.
Having that holding midfielder would not only allow Cattermole and Ndong freedom to push high up the field, but might also allow Grayson to select to naturally very attacking wingers without fearing his back four will be overrun.
It is a system the manager used in pre-season and particularly away from home, could offer the template for more efficient counter-attacking and greater control of games in general.
Potential side: Ruiter; Jones, Browning, Wilson, Kone, Oviedo; Ndong, Cattermole, McGeady; Watmore, Grabban.
It is a system that Grayson has enjoyed using at previous clubs. He fielded it for the first time with this Sunderland side against Carlisle United, and though the result was a very disjointed, unconvincing display, that owed more to the players out position than the system itself.
Tyias Browning and Lamine Kone have formed an impressive partnership thus far but putting a more experienced and vocal player alongside them, such as Wilson or John O’Shea, might help the defence put together a crucial run of clean sheets.
It also offers another attractive proposition by moving Aiden McGeady further infield. That would reduce his crossing threat slightly but it does mean that he would have greater creative freedom to roam without badly exposing the full-back behind him.
Those wing-backs are perhaps the greatest barrier to the success of this system, however.
Bryan Oviedo does have a good cross but generally he, Billy Jones and Adam Matthews are not naturals when it comes to overlapping and offering an attacking outlet.
If they don’t get high enough up the field it can force Sunderland to go long too often and be very predictable in attack.
Duncan Watmore would at least offer some much needed space to stretch opposition defences, however.
Potential side: Ruiter; Jones, Browning, Kone, Oviedo; Ndong, Cattermole; McGeady, Williams/McNair, McManaman, Grabban.
Both will need time to get back to full match fitness but Grayson should soon feel he is able to call upon the services of two natural advanced midfielders.
Paddy McNair spoke during his recovery period about wanting to return as a midfielder who can go box-to-box and hurt opposition sides in the final third.
He showed at QPR in the League Cup last year that he is capable of doing so, if not as a genuine number ten then certainly as the most advanced of a midfield three.
The same goes for Jonny Williams, who will be short of his best form after a prolonged spell without first team football, but can offer a very different threat when fit.
A natural creative player who can cause problems both by picking a pass and taking players on,
Simon Grayson showed a preference for this shape in pre-season, using it far more than any other system. He lacked the midfield to really make it work with Jack Rodwell not a natural fit playing off the main striker.
Grayson knows the chance to use it again, and it is something that come in particularly handy when chasing games, something that they have really struggled to do in a rigid 4-4-2 in the last two games.
Potential side: Ruiter; Jones, Browning, Kone, Oviedo; Honeyman, Ndong, Cattermole, McGeady; Vaughan, Grabban.
This system has shown itself to have plenty of plus points. Sunderland were much the better side on the opening night of the season and created a number of chances.
Playing two orthodox centre-forwards, albeit with one of Grabban or James Vaughan dropping much deeper when the Black Cats lose possession, gives George Honeyman and especially Aiden McGeady a lot to aim at when they get the ball in wide areas.
For all his struggles in front of goal thus far, Vaughan has shown in his better performances that his aerial ability and prodigious work-rate can help bring others into play. He was superb at Carrow Road, dominant against Norwich City’s three man defence and creating space for Grabban to shine.
Watmore’s return from injury also offers a very different outlet for the Black Cats.
Arguably the biggest problem with Sunderland’s attacking play at the moment is that despite possessing some very creative players, they are largely lacking the kind of pace that can open up defences.
Watmore, whether it be through the middle or on the right wing, can do that and it will be a major boost to his manager.