Black Cats can’t afford to rely on luck this season
Sunderland, 11/4 for a top 10 finish, should still be counting their lucky stars that they managed to retain Premier League status last season, even after suffering a 3-1 defeat to Swansea City on the last day of a disappointing campaign.
The Black Cats seem to be blessed when it comes to relegation scraps, having managed to avoid the trap door down to the Championship for the past two terms, despite dangling perilously over it for much of the time.
Gus Poyet has been brought in to change all that, though, and alongside their last gasp survival he also managed to drive the northeast side to a Capital One Cup final. Fans can take solace from the fact that, when it comes to the crunch, their team does have the required grit and potential to perform, illustrated by last season’s memorable wins against Chelsea and Manchester United.
It is now Poyet’s job to extract the talent from his current squad, and ensure they can perform consistently, not just when the chips are down, or when there is a famous scalp up for grabs.
His challenge has not been made any easier by the Sunderland hierarchy’s lacklustre display in the transfer window so far, with Poyet apparently missing out on top targets such as Jordon Mutch. It is something which will understandably grate on the Stadium of Light faithful, as they watch bitter local rivals Newcastle United splurge on top talent from the Eredivisie, such as Daryl Janmaat and Siem de Jong.
Poyet’s transfers look somewhat bland and uninspired by comparison, with three free transfers and a loan deal making up the bulk of the Black Cats’ fresh faces, indicating a budget Aston Villa-esque approach to this summer market.
Right back Santiago Vergini returns for another temporary spell at the club, having impressed Poyet enough to earn another season at the Stadium of Light, and bolstering the full back positions alongside ex-West Brom man Billy Jones and Chelsea academy product Patrick van Aanholt.
Dutchman Van Aanholt, young, athletic and highly-rated, is a promising signing for the Black Cats, and one of only two transfers to force the Sunderland hierarchy to dip into the coffers.
Jack Rodwell has also finally arrived, for a hefty £10m fee, after Poyet announced his transfer frustration to the media.
Speaking before a deal for the ex-Evertonian was finalised, Poyet revealed: “It’s clear we need a few new players. I hope it is now, today, tomorrow.”
Rodwell will have somewhat sated the Uruguayan coach’s transfer appetite, with the dynamic box-to-box midfielder just the type of player the Black Cats require to plug their midfield. The high price tag placed on the young Englishman was a surprise, given that his injury problems have restricted him to just 26 appearances since his move to Manchester City in 2012.
Sunderland have seen 12 players leave Wearside this window, including the likes of Craig Gardner and Phil Bardsley, as well as homegrown Jack Colback’s controversial departure to Newcastle.
Only six new recurits have arrived to replace the outgoing bodies, and the expensive gamble on Rodwell could prove costly if he fails to stay fit, potentially leaving Sunderland light on top quality midfielders.
Sunderland could also do with reinforcing their centre back options, as the erstwhile former Red Devils duo of Wes Brown and John O’Shea are not getting any younger.
Injury-prone Brown is already 34 years of age, and only managed to make 24 appearances for the Black Cats last campaign. The versatile veteran is entering the final year of his contract, as is experienced skipper O’Shea, who will also turn 34 this season.
A younger, durable and pacier option could make all the difference to the Wearside club’s campaign, even if only to provide cover alongside Valentin Roberge.
Sunderland have made some savvy moves this summer, though, by securing star man Sebastian Larsson on a new contract until 2017, and snapping up ex-City stopper Costel Pantilimon for free. The 27-year-old goalkeeper will likely initially play second-fiddle to Vito Mannone, who was one of few Black Cats players to impress last term.
The Italian, who saved two penalities in the Capital One Cup semi-final against United, was voted Sunderland Player of the Year, and the increased competition can only be beneficial for the Black Cats, as Poyet looks to keep players on their toes.
Sunderland still have question marks remaining over their offence, however, with the northeast side expected to dip back into the market mainly for attacking options. It is believed Poyet, who has been linked with a swoop for Chelsea forward Victor Moses, would like to add more pace up front, and covets a winger as well as another striker.
Last season’s loan star Fabio Borini, who netted 10 times for Sunderland in that spell, is tipped for a rumoured £14m return to the Stadium of Light, but the Italian appears to be dragging his feet over a permanent move from Liverpool. The talented forward would likely command a huge portion of Poyet’s transfer warchest, leaving further loan signings as the most likely additions.
Tottenham misfit Nacer Chadli has also been mooted to move to the northeast, as uncertainty remains over starlet Connor Wickham’s future. Sunderland seem keen to tie the striker down, after the 21-year-old helped them beat the drop last term with five goals in 12 Premier League appearances, but he only has one year left on his contract.
Remaining attacking duo Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore, who only netted four times between them last season, are likely to enjoy a stay of execution, as Poyet looks to ensure he has enough cover for a full and demanding Premier League season.
After only scoring 41 goals in 38 Premier League outings last term, Poyet is right to seek further options in offence, as Sunderland, 9/2 to be relegated this season, should be looking to do more than just survive this time around. Otherwise, it may not be third time lucky.