Tuesday 23 January 2018

O'Neill wants Sunderland to play like Barcelona

Luke Edwards

Martin O'Neill will begin his reign as Sunderland manager against Blackburn Rovers tomorrow with the aim of transforming his new team into one playing with the same style and finesse as Barcelona.

O'Neill, who has never lost his opening game at a new club, is aware his bold vision for a side that have never finished in the top six of the Premier League will prompt sniggers, but the former Celtic and Aston Villa manager was not joking.

In the 16 months he has spent out of the game following his sudden departure from Villa, O'Neill has spent much of his time analysing different teams and their style of play. And a manager, who has sometimes been criticised in the past for playing a bland style of football, has been bewitched by the high octane pass-and-press game of the European champions.

It is in their image that O'Neill hopes to get Sunderland performing on Wearside, although he admits that a side hovering just one place above the relegation zone needs pragmatic rather than pretty football in its current predicament.

"I always come back to the way Barcelona play," said O'Neill when asked what he would like his Sunderland team to represent. "It's a long way into the future, but you'd love to keep that in the back of your mind and think you could eventually have a team that could play like that.

"Over the last couple of years, Arsenal have been very easy on the eye and it would be lovely to play a brand of football that would excite the crowd. But we need to win some matches and at the moment pragmatism has to be the order of the day."

Given the success he enjoyed at Villa with a counter-attacking team, O'Neill might be expected to adopt a similar strategy at Sunderland, but he doesn't think it's an option open to him.

"There was a lot of pace in that Villa side, so it was almost natural to play that way. I don't think that we have that same kind of pace in the team at the moment, so we'll have to adjust accordingly."

Sunderland have won just three times at home in 2011, a dreadful run and the biggest single reason behind the demise of Steve Bruce as manager. O'Neill has made an improvement in the team's home form one of his priorities and a win over Blackburn would restore the buffer between Sunderland and the bottom three. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers,

Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports 1, 1.30

Irish Independent

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