The transfer activity around Sunderland this summer has been so hectic that even a diehard fan might lose count. As many as 10 new signings arrived at the Stadium of Light with Steve Bruce still not ruling out an 11th. The return of players on loan who formed the core of the side last season and the sale of Jordan Henderson forced the manager to market from where he came back with a handful. The task ahead will be to restore order to the team after an ordinary pre-season.
Bruce has been in the Sunderland dugout for the last two seasons, and both started encouragingly for the club but they lacked the consistency to cling on to their position. At the midseason of the last campaign, which included an early seven match unbeaten run against teams including Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United, Sunderland were fighting for a European qualification spot, with a 3-0 victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge another pre-Christmas highlight. But Darren Bent’s departure in January and unprecedented injuries to key players including Danny Welbeck and Titus Bramble has showed the team’s lack of bench strength. Finally when they finished at 10th, their highest top-flight finish for a decade, the fans could breathe a sigh of relief.
Sunderland entered the transfer scene early with the trade of Henderson and the signing of midfielders Craig Gardner and Sebastian Larsson, while the Premier League will be a new experience for goalkeeper Kieren Westwood and striker Connor Wickham, both being snapped up from Championship sides. The additions continued with Blackpool’s David Vaughan, young South Korean striker Ji Dong-won and the Manchester United duo of Wes Brown and John Oshea joining the ranks. Young Irish winger James McLean is the newest arrival while Ahmed Elmohamady made his move permanent after a loan spell last term.
With Westwood added, the team now boasts three quality ‘keepers, which will keep Simon Mignolet and Craig Gordon under pressure. The addition of Brown and O’Shea to the defence – which still lacks a genuine left-back – to join the impressive Bramble and last term’s Player of the Season, Phil Bardsley, will open more options for the manager. The major difference from last season will be in midfield with Gardner and Vaughan fighting for the central role in front of Lee Cattermole, who returns after an injury lay-off. Gardner will provide a lethal goal threat from the middle and that along with the stupendous set pieces and quality crosses from his former Birmingham teammate Larsson will add a refreshing dimension to the Sunderland attack. Bruce is keen to add a natural left winger to the team which has only one of that kind in McLean. The loss of Bent still hurts but if “Little Drogba” Stephane Sessgnon can build on his strong pre-season and Asamoah Gyan can grow up to the expectations of his manager then premiership could see a deadly attacking duo with Ji Dong and Wickham waiting in the ranks.
The team starts with the tough tie at Anfield and a home derby against Newcastle United waits a week later The team, after ruined good starts swiftly raised some significant questions about their collective mental strength, is undergoing a renovation and there is a huge anticipation from the fans to see whether they can perform consistently.
Key signing – John O’Shea: The former Manchester United utility player has every chance of making an impact at Sunderland. Having worn the armband in many occasions during the decade long relation with Old Trafford, the Republic of Ireland international carries leadership onto the pitch for a team short of big match experience. Add the versatility that he brings to defence to that and O’Shea can be a good asset to the club.
Key departure – Jordan Henderson: The Sunderland Academy product will make his Premier League debut for Liverpool this weekend against his former club after a £16m switch. The departure is not seen as a setback since the 21-year-old is not a finished product and the significant funds gathered by the transfer were used for team rebuilding that included signing a fine replacement in Gardner.
Bardsley – Bramble – Brown – O’Shea
Larsson – Cattermole – Gardner – Vaughan
Gyan – Sessgnon
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