Dick Advocaat has warned his players that Sunderland need a first line of defence, if they are to begin keeping clean sheets.
Sunderland have shipped 11 goals in their opening four Premier League outings, while conceding three to League Two Exeter City in the Capital One Cup.
We are not so good that we can say they just can stay forward, like Messi and RonaldoDick Advocaat
But while that infamous defensive record has prompted scrutiny of Sunderland’s back four, head coach Advocaat’s attention has been further up the pitch, principally on the two wide players in his front three.
Advocaat has told Jeremain Lens and Jermain Defoe that they need to provide far more of a helping hand in tracking back, rather than letting Sunderland’s full-backs be left exposed.
“Everybody thinks it is just the defence,” said Advocaat.
“If our wide players are not doing their jobs, the problems start there. You could see that very clearly at Aston Villa.
“Lens and Defoe have had some problems with that and they have to improve that, or the players who are playing there.
“We are not so good that we can say they can just stay forward, like Messi and Ronaldo.
“I’ve told them that.
“Maybe one player who is a regular will have to drop out to find that right balance.
“Maybe we’ll have too many attacking players.
“It is not always about putting in extra strikers.
“It’s about the balance of the side so it gels.”
However, it is not only a first clean sheet that Sunderland will be striving for against Spurs tomorrow.
After two draws and two defeats from the opening four games, Sunderland are still waiting to register their first Premier League win of the campaign, albeit so too are Spurs.
If it does arrive tomorrow, Advocaat expects it to provide a healthy confidence boost, although his focus centres on getting 40 points, not just three points.
“If you see many other clubs, they have the same problem as we have,” he added.
“But it is important to get that first win.
“The most important thing though is getting 40 points by the end.”