Sunderland being a Premier League club in 2015-16 is something of an achievement in itself. The last three seasons have seen managerial changes as the board desperately tried to keep the club up. With Dick Advocaat being persuaded to stay on as manager for one more year after guiding them to safety last season, many fans will be hoping to see them enjoy a safer season. In reality, the squad hasn’t improved that much and it is likely to be another nerve-racking final couple of months to the season for the Black Cats’ supporters.
Story of Last Season
Last season was a case of déjà vu for Sunderland supporters as the club found themselves in a relegation battle before a new manager was brought in to keep them up, maintaining Premier League status by the skin of their teeth. Whilst Gus Poyet wasn’t as controversial as Paulo Di Canio, the Uruguayan was still extremely emotional on the sideline, something that wasn’t reflected in his team’s performances as they recorded a staggering 17 draws during the campaign. There were also some heavy defeats, most memorably the 8-0 thumping by Southampton at St Mary’s. Dick Advocaat was brought in as a short term solution and oversaw victories against Newcastle, Southampton and Everton as the Mackems guaranteed themselves a ninth consecutive season of top flight football.
Sunderland have looked to bolster their defence during the off season with Sebastian Coates’ loan move from Liverpool being made permanent. The Uruguayan failed to impress on Merseyside but arrived in the league in high demand after a string of impressive performances for Uruguay. Compatriot Poyet used him sparingly but Advocaat utilised him much more often, something that can be expected to continue this season with John O’Shea and Wes Brown both being another year older.
Advocaat has also brought in former Tottenham captain Younes Kaboul to strengthen his central defensive options. Kaboul lost his place in the Spurs side last season after a series of mistakes so the Stadium of Light faithful will be hoping Advocaat can bring the best out of the Frenchman.
Adam Matthews has been brought in from Celtic for a paltry £2 million, with the versatile full-back being able to play on both sides. Matthews made his Wales debut at the age of 19 but hasn’t featured in recent squads under Chris Coleman and will be looking to resurrect his international career with the Welsh looking well placed to qualify for Euro 2016 and top seeds in their 2018 World Cup group. The incentive of being part of an international tournament should spur Matthews on and Sunderland will be hoping they see the best of the 23 year old after racking up 150 appearances for Celtic including 30 in Europe.
Advocaat has also brought in the versatile Dutchman Jeremain Lens from Dynamo Kiev for an undisclosed fee. Lens can play anywhere across the front line and arrives off the back of scoring 19 goals in 49 games during a two year spell in the Ukraine.
Jermain Defoe – Goals win games in football matches, and Defoe has had a knack of finding the net throughout his career. After a brief spell in the MLS, the former England man returned in January to help Sunderland survive with his spectacular volley against Newcastle likely to make him a cult hero on Wearside whatever happens this season. However with Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham not regularly finding the net and goals from midfield limited, Defoe will shoulder the burden of the club’s goal-scoring exploits. If he can recapture his form of old, Sunderland will be hoping for a calmer season but if his age catches up with him, fans may be wondering where goals are going to come from.
Lee Cattermole – For all his misdemeanours, Cattermole is actually an extremely accomplished Premier League midfielder and often helps to break down opposition attacks. With Sunderland’s centre half positions looking like they are up for grabs, Cattermole’s role in shielding them could prove pivotal, particularly in the early stages of the season. However, the Englishman has a knack of picking up stupid bookings and sendings off, something his side cannot afford. A disciplined Cattermole would be a huge asset for Sunderland and supporters will be hoping the calming influence of Advocaat will see the club captain maturing into a better player.
Costel Pantilimon – With the defensive issues at the club already highlighted, the former Manchester City stopper could be called upon numerous times during the upcoming season. After replacing Vito Mannone following the Southampton debacle last season, the Romanian helped rebuild confidence in the Sunderland back line. With the potential for the back four in front of him to be continually changing, Advocaat will hope Pantilimon’s experience will help his side keep things tight at the back.
Advocaat favoured the 4-3-3 formation at the end of last season and the players at the club suggest this will remain the same. Sunderland now have good competition for places with Billy Jones, Younes Kaboul, Jack Rodwell and Steven Fletcher all likely to fancy their chances of breaking into the team. Fletcher provides the option for the team to play with two strikers and the classic little and large combination while Rodwell will provide a more physical presence if Advocaat decides to play a second defensive midfielder alongside Cattermole.
A man with vast experience in numerous leagues throughout the world, many were surprised Advocaat took the Sunderland job with the club facing relegation from the top tier. However, the Dutchman utilised that experience to help the club survive against the odds and after being persuaded by the board and fans to remain as manager, now faces the prospect of a full season on Wearside. He currently holds a position of strength with fans firmly behind him and as long as Sunderland keep themselves above the relegation places throughout the season, there is no reason to see this changing.
First Six Fixtures
Sunderland’s first six fixtures could prove pivotal to their season with trips to Leicester, Aston Villa and Bournemouth facing them. There is also a proverbial ‘six pointer’ at home to newly promoted Norwich with Swansea and Spurs the other two sides to visit the Stadium of Light. With four fixtures against clubs likely to be battling with them to avoid relegation and two further home fixtures, Advocaat will be hoping to make the most of the opportunities presented to his side and acquire a minimum of 10 points to open the campaign. Any more and the belief on Wearside will grow dramatically, significantly less and Sunderland will already be hoping to just stave off relegation for a further season.
Final Standing Prediction – 16th
Sunderland have been struggling for the past 3 years and have only finished higher than 13th once during their promotion back to the top flight in 2006-07. Unfortunately, there is nothing to suggest this season will any different but with the calm and experienced Advocaat in the managerial hot seat instead of the eccentric Di Canio or Poyet, The Boot Room expect The Mackems to just about survive another relegation scrap.
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