Premier League Preview: Sunderland AFC

Premier League Preview: Sunderland AFC
Aug 8, 2016

Sunderland

After another late escape last season for Sunderland, fans were hopeful that Sam Allardyce would carry on the tremendous work he started, making smart signings and playing no-nonsense, structured football that would hopefully see Sunderland stabilise themselves in the top flight instead of battling relegation every season.

However, after a dismal European Championships, England and The FA parted ways with Roy Hodgson and appointed Allardyce, with the managerial saga being a long, drawn-out process. Even though they were quick to appoint a replacement once Allardyce left, the three weeks leading up to it had left Sunderland lagging behind in the transfer market. Unable to assure players of who was going to be in charge come the start of the season, it was undoubtedly hard to attract new faces to the Stadium of Light.

While matters off the pitch have hindered the club, on the pitch the signs have been positive. Sunderland went unbeaten during pre-season, including an impressive 1-1 draw against Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund. Under Moyes, the team have looked organised and effective, with a particularly strong showing from former out-of-favour winger Jeremain Lens, who looks much fitter and raring to go this season.

Transfer Business

Due to the drama surrounding Allardyce, Sunderland have been fairly inactive on the transfer market, only Senegalese CB Papy Djilobodji has been confirmed as a new face so far, and for a fee of £8 million will look to bolster the defensive options under Moyes’ disposal.

On the outs, Sunderland have been much more proactive, ridding much of the deadwood of previous regimes. Before the season had finished, CB Valentin Roberge had his contract mutually terminated by the club, and it was followed by the release of strikers Danny Graham and Steven Fletcher and defender Wes Brown. Santiago Vergini and Emanuele Giaccherini were both sold for meagre fees (£1.5m and £2m respectively).

Sunderland also loaned out fringe players Adam Matthews, Sebastián Coates and Will Buckley to Bristol City, Sporting CP and Sheffield Wednesday.

Key Players

  1. Jermain Defoe – It goes without saying that without his goals last season, Sunderland would have been relegated, and it will be up to the 34-year-old to provide the firepower from attack once again. The striker is always a threat and provides an outlet for Sunderland to counter from at any opportunity, if Sunderland want to stabilise themselves as a Premier League Club, this man will need to produce
  2. Lamine Koné – The towering Centre-Half proved to be a shrewd January signing under Allardyce, forming a formidable defensive partnership with Younes Kaboul that helped keep the team afloat. Additionally, Koné is an outstanding threat at set-pieces, having scored twice against Everton from them and having another header against Manchester United ruled as a De Gea own goal.
  3. Jan Kirchhoff – I was debating whether to highlight Kirchhoff or Tunisian winger Wahbi Khazri, as both will prove to be vital cogs in Sunderland’s planned rise up the table. I chose Kirchhoff as he is the glue that sticks this side together. He acts as an anchorman to the back four, allowing the full backs to overlap and push higher up the pitch, and his range of passing is simply sublime. One main concern is his injury record and whether he will be fit enough for an entire Premier League campaign, but when at 100%, Sunderland look a much better side with him than without.

Ones To Watch

  1. Jordan Pickford – This time last year, the now 22-year-old was beginning life in the Championship on-loan at Preston North End after a successful spell in League One at Bradford City, five months later, he was making his Sunderland debut at the Emirates Stadium in an FA Cup clash against Arsenal. Why? The ‘keeper had highly impressed during his time at Deepdale, equalling a club record for consecutive clean sheets, his performances clearly impressed Allardyce, who recalled him from his loan to backup Vito Mannone. Since January, Pickford has progressed a lot and expect him to challenge Mannone for the Number 1 spot this season.
  2. Lynden Gooch – The American-Irish attacker has impressed at under-21 level in the past 12 months, and looks to follow fellow attacker Duncan Watmore in transitioning into the first team this term. Gooch has been with the club since he was 17, making the hop across the pond in the hope of improving himself, and he seems determined to make sure the risk pays off. While he clearly still has work to do to develop his skills, Sunderland’s lack of depth could mean a break-out year is on the cards.

 

Summary

This season looks set to be a transitional one for Sunderland, one where they hopefully take steps forward and cement themselves as a mid-table Premier League side rather than sure-fire relegation candidates. However, a lack of squad depth will hinder Sunderland, especially during January and February with three players set to go to the African Cup of Nations (Koné, Khazri and Djilobodji). If between now and the transfer window closing, Sunderland can get some more signings in, including that of ex-loanee Yann M’vila, maybe they could push for mid-table, but right now, a bottom five finish looks likely.

Predicted Finish: 16th

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