How Long Will Paolo Di Canio Last At Sunderland?

wigan sunderland photoPhoto by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

When Paolo Di Canio first arrived in the Premier League, none of us really knew what to expect. However, the controversial Italian manager had a near immediate impact, and the 3-0 derby win against Newcastle combined with a 1-0 success against Everton did a lot to ease those relegation fears.

But the last four games of the season were less positive, and the 6-1 loss against Aston Villa reminded us all about the size of the job. It’s not unusual for a new manager to come in and have an immediate impact, and that was clearly something that he was able to do.

However, Sunderland fans will be disappointed to have finished 17th in the league with just 39 points. Clearly, there is going to be a summer of rebuilding, which will ultimately determine if Di Canio’s reign will be a success in the long-term. So, let’s delve a little into the stats this season to see what we can learn about Di Canio and Sunderland.

Di Canio’s record at Sunderland so far

di canio sunderland
For a full breakdown of this week’s matches, check out

These stats don’t tell us an awful lot about what chance Di Canio has of being a long-term success at the Stadium of Light, but a win percentage of 28.6 suggests that nothing is guaranteed.  For the sake of comparison, it’s worth pointing out that Martin O’Neill had a win percentage of 31.8. Therefore, it’s still too early to tell if the Sunderland board made the right decision in making that change.

Nevertheless, some people would say that it’s unfair to judge the new manager until he has had the chance to make the squad his own. Therefore, it’s useful to look into our stats to see where some areas that require improvement are.

A chronic lack of goals

The Black Cats have scored just 41 goals in the Premier League this season, which is the third worst record in the league. In fact, this is not an area that Di Canio has been able to have a positive impact on just yet. Sunderland averaged 1.1 goals per match before Di Canio took over, and that remains the average since he has been in charge.

One possible reason for the lack of goals is the generally low shot count. Sunderland takes just 11 shots per match, which is the second lowest in the EPL. And only 3.7 shots are put on target, which is the fourth worst record in the league. Things were actually even worse under Di Canio, where the Black Cats registered 9.3 shots and just 2.9 shots on target.

An over reliance on Steven Fletcher

Sunderland have only scored 21 goals from open play this season. Fletcher has been the club’s top scorer, but Di Canio’s team certainly missed his influence when injury struck towards the end of the season.

The only other attacker that has contributed to the team’s goal tally is Stephane Sessegnon, who usually plays in an attacking midfield role. Danny Graham was another striker that has played a fair bit this season since arriving at the club in January, but the fact that he has failed to register a single goal in that time really highlights the problems that Sunderland have had this season. So, let’s have a look at some of the data on those players.

sunderland top

It’s pretty obvious from this data that Sunderland need to add goals to their team from the summer transfer market. The exact positions that those players occupy is largely a matter of tactics, but the strike force in general appears to be too light on goals.

Successful teams need the ball

Another factor that might suggest why Sunderland has struggled is the lack of possession.  The Black Cats have averaged just 43.1% of possession per match this season; this is the second worst statistic in the league. The Black Cats also completed just 76.1% of their passes.

But things have actually been even worse than that under Di Canio. Since he arrived, Sunderland have achieved only 38.3% of possession and completed 69.4% of passes. There is also a chronic problem with getting the ball in the right areas with 30% of the ball in the defensive third. Again, things have been worse under Di Canio with 31.6% of possession in the defensive third since he has taken over.

What this all points to is a lack of a calm, passing central midfield player that can control the ball and also get Sunderland moving from an attacking sense. Another key indicator to this is a lack of short passes per game. The Black Cats have managed 295 per match, and this is the fourth worst record in the EPL this season. Let’s have a look at some of Sunderland’s best passers this season.

sunderland pass
For a full breakdown of this week’s matches, check out

A potential problem here could be a lack of game time for David Vaughan, who has established himself as the best passer in the team. However, since he is clearly out of favour, it’s important for Di Canio to identify a replacement from the transfer market that can fulfil a similar role.

Hope to be had on the defensive side

There is certainly room for improvement on the defensive side, but conceding goals is not necessarily Sunderland’s biggest problem. In total, 54 goals were conceded this season, but obviously that figure was badly affected by the aforementioned 6-1 defeat to Aston Villa.

One thing the Black Cats must aim to do next season is limit the number of chances that they give to opposing teams. Di Canio’s side conceded 16.8 shots per match this season, and that’s the second most in the league. In fact, the stat got worse against since the Italian took over with 18 shots per match conceded.

The tackling side of Sunderland’s game has been reasonably successful this season by averaging 20.6 tackles per match, which is the fourth most in the EPL. In fact, that went up since Di Canio took over to 21.7. Conceding shots from within the penalty area has been a problem for Sunderland all season with 59% of shots conceded in this area.

Since Di Canio took over, opponents managed to score on 10% of all shot attempts, but this figure was 8.2% before his tenure. Furthermore, Sunderland conceded 11 goals in the Italian’s seven matches in charge, with four of those coming from corners. So, there is certainly work to be done here.

The Black Cats will have to look at the defence over the summer and decide if reinforcements are required or not. Of course, defensive improvements can also be gained by providing more protection to the defence. Therefore, Di Canio may decide what he really needs is a top class defensive midfielder. Anyway, let’s have a look at some of Sunderland’s best performing defensive players this season.

sunderland defenders

Perhaps the most significant thing to put out of this data set is the influence that Craig Gardner can have on the defensive side, evidenced by the fact that he is the most proficient tackler in the team. Gardner has played at right back and in a defensive midfielder position, but has also influenced things further forward with the six goals that he has scored.

There is plenty food for thought here for Di Canio to assess. It’s fair to say that it’s a very important summer for Sunderland, and if the Italian manager can get things right, then he could be set for a long tenure.

Last summer, a lot of money was spent on Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson, but Di Canio may feel that he needs to spread the cash around a bit more than Martin O’Neill managed. As we know, getting things wrong in the transfer market can ultimately lead to the sack down the line.

For a full breakdown of this week’s matches, check out
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