Sunderland’s escape from relegation last season was very much top of the undercard as one of the most gripping Premier League seasons came to a close. This time around, you’d forgive them if they’re looking for minimal drama and attention. After Paolo Di Canio’s demise and Kevin Ball’s short stint in charge, Gus Poyet took over the reins, as Sunderland recorded famous victories away to Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, taking the Black Cats to a 14th placed finish.
The new season represents an opportunity for Sunderland to build on the momentum of the spring, and for Poyet to build a team which can see Sunderland challenge for spots higher up the table. Sunderland have made some solid and sensible moves in the window to date, but nothing spectacular. Whilst there hasn’t been any clear cut news, there appears to be an undercurrent of discontent between Poyet and the powers at be. I feel they’ll need to resolve those and make a couple of key signings in the last three weeks or else they’ll again be spending much of the season in the bottom half.
Jack Rodwell’s £10m transfer carries potential for a big upside, but only if the midfielder can overcome his injury problems and get some consistent game time under his belt. There is obvious ability there and a dynamism which the Premier League is built for, but whether the same can be said about Rodwell’s body remains to be seen. Elsewhere, Sunderland have padded out the squad with some measured captures. They’ve signed Costel Pantilimon on a free from Manchester City to provide competition for the impressive Vito Mannone, and have also picked up Billy Jones (WBA) and Jordi Gomez (Wigan) for nothing but the signing on fee. Whilst they are unlikely to set the world alight, they will offer depth and freshness.
Fabio Borini has been identified as the headline transfer target but as of yet, Borini appears to be resisting the move. A £14m bid, a considerable outlay, has been accepted by Liverpool, but whether Borini sees Sunderland as a good career move remains to be seen. Poyet and co will need to convince him that it is, or else Sunderland may struggle in the final third. Conor Wickham is the subject of a bid from West Ham, and if he leaves, and Borini does not arrive, Sunderland will be losing the goals which kept them in the division last term.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Adam Johnson is the closest thing Sunderland have to a genuine match winner with his pace and ability to score from range on his left side. Unfortunately, Johnson’s career, like many English wingers before him, has stagnated, and the excitement that came with his potential has turned to frustration around his inconsistency. Regardless, he’ll most likely be good for a solid return in terms of goals and assists – 8 and 6 last time out – and would certainly be aided by more quality alongside and ahead of him.
Unless Sunderland can bring in more goals and pace up top I can’t see anything more than a fairly steady but inspiring season ahead. With that said, I do think that Poyet is a smart and progressive thinking coach, and will have his side playing with high intensity and speed. At the very least, Sunderland fans can look forward to better football.