Even though they are not one of the biggest clubs, with a big transfer budget, I feel Sunderland could definitely be looking at a good finish at the end of the season, after strengthening well this summer – and having a good experienced manager in Martin O’Neill – I think the Black Cats could just be dark horses.
Sunderland brought in some good players over the summer, and before they set foot on the pitch I had a feeling they’d do well. They signed Carlos Cuellar on a free transfer – who previously played under O’Neill at Villa – which was a good piece of business, as he’s an experienced centre-back, as well as being able to play right-back and will definitely add some more solidity and strength in-depth to this Sunderland side. Louis Saha also joined the Mackems on a free, again adding a bit more experience and strength in-depth to the side. They didn’t just sign economical and experienced players though, they loaned Danny Rose from Spurs for the season, most likely as a direct replacement for Kieran Richardson who made a late switch to Fulham, then of course, there’s the high-profile, big money signings! They signed Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher for a combined £25M, which does seem extremely steep, but they will deliver. Adam Johnson will run at players and create, as well as chipping in with a few goals and after watching Steven Fletcher at Molineux for the past couple of seasons, I know for a fact he will score a lot of goals for Sunderland. He’s a typical goal scorer, always lurking in the box, and if you supply him with decent service, he will get on the end of it and score goals.
Sunderland have nearly all the foundations for a good season at the minute. They have a strong back four with good cover, and two very talented and relatively young ‘keepers in Mignolet and Keiren Westwood, who a lot Premier League teams probably would like to have. The majority of defenders are experienced and versatile as well, which is an extremely useful combination to have – it will help them cope if they get a couple of injuries – but it can also help them see out games with the experience and allows them to change things up mid-game, without having to make a sub, if they didn’t start too well.
I’m also a huge fan of Sunderlands deeper lying midfielders, especially Cattermole. I think Cattermole is one of the most underrated players in the league, I know his disciplinary record isn’t great, but I do think he’s an extremely talented midfielder. He doesn’t do anything remarkable, he does his job, he wins the ball and he passes it to someone who can create, I really do enjoy watching him play. Their other two (main) midfielders would be Craig Gardner and David Vaughn, who I also like, they can both win the ball and use it. Vaughn has a great left foot and is a very tidy passer, while Gardner can drive at defences well and has a great shot on him – as well as being willing to work and ‘get stuck in’. The solidity and discipline here allows them to get the best out of Sessegnon, for me.
Sessegnon is a flair player, who plays between the lines and wreaks havoc in opposition defences, and is the type of player you wouldn’t really see ‘busting a gut’ to track back, which he may not be able to get away with without the discipline of the midfielder behind him. He is a great player and has had a great start to his Sunderland career and is an almost perfect player to play behind Fletcher as he creates space and pulls defenders away, which can also release the wide men, who are a huge strength for Sunderland. Johnson and McClean are two great wingers who are both not scared to run at players, as well as having a good final ball on them, and will be able to whip some great crosses in for Fletcher.
I’ve already covered Fletcher, but I’ll just say with the service of the two wide men and Sessegnon behind him, I do think Fletcher will score at least 15 goals this season.
Overall, O’Neill has helped put together a great side, disciplined and solid as well as having a touch of flair and lots of strength in-depth – I think they will definitely be a side to watch this season.
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