They’ve reached the Capital One Cup final and got an impressive point away at Manchester City recently but it matters little at this point as Sunderland lie rock bottom of the Premier League as we head into the final weeks of this incredible season. A measly 26 points have been earned from 33 games and they are currently six points behind Norwich who lie in 17th albeit with a game in hand. The key question though is not whether Sunderland will survive but where has it gone wrong for Sunderland this season?
Firstly and most obvious issue for Sunderland is the massive squad turnover this season. A grand total of 19 players have been signed by two managers in just two transfer windows:
- Duncan Watmore – Altrincham (free)
- David Moberg Karlsson – IFK Gothenburg (£1.5 million)
- Modibo Diakite – Lazio (free)
- Valentin Roberge – Maritimo (free)
- Cabral – Basel (free)
- Vito Mannone – Arsenal (£2 million)
- Jozy Altidore – AZ Alkmaar (£6 million)
- El-Hadji Ba – Le Havre (£300,000)
- Emmanuele Giaccherini – Juventus (£6.5 million)
- Ondrej Celustka – Trabzonspor (loan)
- Charalampos Mavrias – Panathinaikos (£3 million)
- Ki Sung-Yeung – Swansea (loan)
- Fabio Borini – Liverpool (loan)
- Andrea Dossena – Napoli (loan)
- Marcos Alonso – Sunderland (loan)
- Santiago Vergini – Estudiantes (loan)
- Oscar Ustari – Almeria (free)
- Ignacio Scocco – Internacional (undisclosed)
- Liam Bridcutt – Brighton (undisclosed)
That is just more than a full Premier League matchday squad! It’s an incredible ask for all of these players to come in, gel, understand the way Sunderland play and be up to Premier League quality and pace almost immediately. And, honestly, it’s difficult to pick out more than five or six of these signings that have played consistently well over the course of the season. Fabio Borini has been Sunderland’s main goal threat but he’s heading back to Liverpool in the summer and Ki, possibly their best player this season, is heading back to Swansea when his loan spell is over. The two big money signings Giaccherini and Altidore have contributed little with Altidore especially being criticised for being seemingly unable to score at all. Some of the summer signings are not even at the club anymore seemingly struggling to adapt. Diakite is back in Italy having made little to no impact while Cabral is on loan at Genoa after playing just once. It is shockingly horrible spending and dealings from Sunderland and makes you wonder whether or not their scouting team actually did any work or just plucked these players out of thin air.
Another big problem for Sunderland has been departures. Key players were let go over the summer who have not been properly replaced. Simon Mignolet was sold on to Liverpool for £9 million in the summer and his replacement, Vito Mannone, was sold by Arsenal for being completely unreliable and error-prone. While he has produced some good performances, errors like his recent one against Manchester City will continue to have fans on edge. Perhaps the most damaging departure of all has been Stephane Sessengon’s departure to West Brom on deadline day. When he was sold, Sunderland lost their creative spark, their difference maker. While Sessengon was frustratingly inconsistent at times, he was a special player who could produce enough magic over the course of a season to keep a team like Sunderland comfortably mid-table rather than propping up the table. Without replacing him at all, Sunderland have struggled to create enough chances for their struggling forwards and as a result Sunderland have one of the worst attacks in the league (only Norwich, Cardiff and Crystal Palace have scored fewer). Without quality replacements for quality departures then Sunderland left themselves with a tough time ahead.
Perhaps Sunderland’s biggest problem has been that players have just not performed this season. There was discontent amongst the players due to former boss Paolo Di Canio’s methods and that negative attitude has permeated throughout the club for the rest of the season. New boss Gus Poyet is trying hard to get the players to play and get points but performances at times have been shockingly poor. The defence has chopped and changed so much that they are struggling to get any coherence and, subsequently, are conceding too many goals to keep competitive (only Fulham and Cardiff have conceded more this season). Apart from Adam Johnson, there is little creativity in the side and, as mentioned before, scoring goals in a big issue for them as well. Big name players like Altidore, Giaccherini, Steven Fletcher, John O’Shea, Wes Brown etc. have not performed anywhere near to the levels they should be and it has hurt Sunderland. Without the contributions of Johnson, Borini, Ki and Phil Bardsley Sunderland would be a lot worse off at this stage.
Overall, Sunderland’s season has been a mess and it’s not hard to pinpoint why. Poor transfer dealings both in and out of the club harmed the quality of the squad which was made all the more apparent by all of the under-performing players that have not shown for Sunderland this season. It looks like a tough ask for them to stay up at this stage but if they do expect them to be favourites for relegation next season. This season has gone horrible wrong but the knock-on effects could be long-term if they’re not careful.