Talking Tactics | Swansea City v Sunderland
Following a frustrating start to the season, everything seems to be clicking into gear for Swansea City.
Victory over Watford means Russell Martin has overseen four wins from their last five games, with defeat to league leaders Sheffield United the only blip on the record.
Ahead of today's welcome of Sunderland, WhoScored.com preview the fixture, looking at what to expect from the Black Cats, a key battle and a key stat.
What to expect from Sunderland
Sunderland have made a more than respectable return to the Championship and find themselves in eighth ahead of the weekend's league action, just one point behind Swansea and the play-off spots.
The Black Cats saw Alex Neil leave for Stoke at the end of August and replaced him with Tony Mowbray, but the change in manager hasn't impacted results.
Had the season started when Mowbray took charge at the Stadium of Light, then Sunderland would be ninth in the Championship, highlighting the solid showings under the 58-year-old.
Sunderland have lost just the once under Mowbray, and that was by a solitary goal at rivals Middlesbrough, but come into today's clash on a run of three successive draws.
Having been held by Watford, Preston and Blackpool, the Wearsiders will be keen to return to winning ways, but face a Swansea side in a strong run of form.
Sunderland's sequence of draws coincided with Mowbray's decision to move to a 4-4-2 setup, though injuries haven't helped the former Blackburn boss.
It is likely Mowbray will continue with the system, with Alex Pritchard featuring in attack due to the absence of key striking duo Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms. In addition, Mowbray is unable to call upon defensive duo Dennis Cirkin and Danny Ballard, which hasn't helped matters
The defensive resolve hasn't deserted them, however. They have kept back-to-back clean sheets - but a failure to score in three of their last five league matches has tempered expectations somewhat after a bright start to the season.
Nevertheless, Sunderland are the seventh highest scorers in England's second tier, and their preference to attack down the left has been key to their solid start.
Sunderland have developed a statistically calculated WhoScored.com style of play of 'attacking down the left' with 39% of their attacks coming down the left flank. That has seen Jack Clarke return a WhoScored.com rating of 7.22, that the second best of all Sunderland players, with the Black Cats looking to maximise his offensive quality to help hurt opponents.
A 4-4-2 will certainly benefit a winger of Clarke's ilk, and with the 21-year-old ranking first for dribbles (1.9) and second for key passes per game (2), minimising his influence down the flank is vital.
At the time of writing, only Oliver Norwood (4) has won more WhoScored.com man-of-the-match awards than Ryan Manning (3) in the Championship this season. Those three have come in his last five league outings, with the 26-year-old coming into the welcome of Sunderland in good form.
Thriving in a left wing-back role, Manning has been directly involved in a goal in each of his last three appearances, providing two assists in that period, with the Swans picking up impressive wins at West Brom and Watford in that run.
He'll again be handed the license to support in the final third against the Black Cats, but Manning will need to be at his best to ensure his side of the pitch isn't overloaded by Mowbray's team.
Clarke may be earning the plaudits for Sunderland, but on the opposite flank Patrick Roberts has also been influential since come into the side.
Like Clarke, Roberts is also completing 1.9 dribbles per game and his WhoScored.com rating from starts alone is an impressive 7.43. Sunderland may favour attacking down the left, but from the right, Roberts has proved effective and his battle with Manning promises to be intriguing and could be a decisive element in the final outcome.
While Sunderland have not scored as many goals as they would have liked recently, they have still been solid at the back, particularly once Mowbray took over from Neil.
Indeed, since Mowbray took over the reins, only Sheffield United (2) have conceded fewer goals than Sunderland (3) from his six games in charge.