Premier League preview - Sunderland
Premier League: 13th
FA Cup: Quarter-final
League Cup Second Round
Sunderland will be looking to build on some strong performances last season under manager Martin O’Neill. The Black Cats were hard to beat at times and will be looking to improve on their 13th place finish which saw them briefly battle against relegation, flirt with a European spot, before finally settling for a mid-table finish. They did not end the season as strongly as they would have liked but fans will forget all about that with a good start the to new season.
This campaign promises to be one of tempered optimism for Sunderland fans. They have managed to keep the nucleus of their team together which bodes well for on-field chemistry, but they have also been unusually quiet in the transfer market. Their current talent level is possibly good enough to retain their position in the middle of the table but is this squad deep enough to withstand the long, winding road of the upcoming season? An argument can be made for more signings as the team still needs some reinforcements.
With the departure of leading scorer Nicklas Bendtner questions have to be asked about where the goals will come from. Stephane Sessegnon and Sebastian Larsson are good for a few but can they carry the scoring load? Fans will be calling for another striker or two at the Stadium of Light and with names like Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe being bandied about, there is no doubt O’Neill will be searching for some help up front.
In attack, Sessegnon, formally an attacking midfielder turned part-time forward, will be relied upon heavily to put the ball in the net after his impressive showing last season. Frazier Campbell on the other hand is due for a breakout. After showing much promise early in his career he has been hampered by injuries, resulting in a struggle for form over the last couple of seasons. Campbell needs to hit the target regularly if Sunderland are going to make a push for a top-half finish.
The arrival of Carlos Cuellar on a free transfer from Aston Villa will stabilize an already solid back line which boasted the fifth best goals against record in the league last season. A healthy Lee Cattermole and ever improving Jack Colback will do well with the attacking nature of Larsson and Sessegnon to round out a solid and competitive midfield. The front line remains the only major question mark as the Black Cats are currently without a proven Premier League striker.
Overall Sunderland fans have a lot to look forward to this season. A 13th place finish gives them something to build upon and with O’Neill having the benefit of a pre-season and summer transfer window to shape his side, things are looking up for the club. There is still some work left to do before the transfer window closes but Sunderland fans will be hoping for things to come together quickly to ensure a successful start to the campaign.
Manager - Martin O’Neill: When O’Neill took over in December he provided this Sunderland side some stability after a tumultuous start to the season. The remainder of the year brought mixed results but if his time at Aston Villa is any indication of Sunderland’s future, this will be a season to look forward to as his pedigree and football acumen is unquestionable.
Cuellar has been the only signing so far and a good one. O’Neill will be familiar with the centre-back from his time at Villa and knows what to expect from the Spaniard. With the departure of Michael Turner, Cuellar suddenly becomes a key piece of the back line and will provide stern competition for a starting spot.
Key sale - Asamoah Gyan: Although he could not see eye to eye with his former boss, Gyan’s goal scoring ability would have been useful in this current version of the Black Cats. Gyan was the type of player who could create opportunities as well as finish them, an attribute the team could use at the moment.
Keep an eye out for…Sunderland’s activity in the transfer market. They have been one of, if not the quietest teams so far this summer. The Mackems are in need of reinforcements up front and possibly at left back. Look for a flurry of activity before the window closes as O’Neill seeks to strengthen his squad.