It was the same old story for Sunderland in 2014-15; start with a vibrant manager with momentum from the previous campaign, fall into a mid-season lull, bring in someone new, regroup, stay up.
As the Black Cats begin this season with Dick Advocaat at the helm, there’s a sense things could be a little different at the Stadium of Light. Granted, the veteran Dutchman may not have the exuberance of men like predecessors Gus Poyet of Paolo Di Canio, but he showcased his pedigree by keeping Sunderland afloat last term.
Initially, the popular Advocaat didn’t look as though he’d be signing on for another season, but there was unanimous glee on Wearside when he had a change of heart. Now we’ll see whether the decorated 67-year-old has one final push in him before walking away from the management game for good.
It’ll be tough to do so for a team so familiar with being down at the bottom, but there were encouraging signs last season that Sunderland will be a much more stable entity under Advocaat. Watching the club has been a thrill ride for their supporters in recent seasons, but you suspect the Black Cats faithful would take a comfortable campaign in which relegation is easily avoided.
Reasons to be Positive
Advocaat’s Sunderland may not have finished in the same blaze of glory as Poyet’s or Di Canio’s when they each took the job midway through the season. But that may not necessarily be a bad thing for the Black Cats; indeed, the Dutchman made the team more cohesive at the back and was still able to field sides which included plenty of energy too.
It’s a steel which has been scarce in Sunderland sides in recent times and Advocaat will be hoping the club’s new signings can complement that. Yann M’Vila will be desperate to live up to his previous reputation as a star in the making during a season-long loan, while the likes of Jeremain Lens, Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Coates all add something to the squad.
Reasons to be Negative
The manager has only agreed a one-year deal at the Sunderland and that kind of ephemeral approach is something which could harm the club as they look to build a solid team. Advocaat also has a crop of underachieving and ageing strikers to call upon, meaning plenty of responsibility will fall squarely on the shoulders of Jermain Defoe to score the goals.
Depth is also a key issue. Should a player like Lee Cattermole, renowned for picking up knocks and suspensions, be on the sidelines for a few weeks, there isn’t a ready-made replacement that can step into his shoes. A lack of ingenuity in attacking midfield also means Sunderland will struggle to break down sides that are defensively savvy.
Key Player – Jermain Defoe
Defoe endeared himself to the Sunderland supporters in spectacular fashion late last season, scoring a remarkable winner in the derby against Newcastle United to spark survival hopes. If Sunderland are to survive, there’s going to have to be plenty more golden moments from the former Tottenham Hotspur man.
At 32 years old, it’s going to be tough for a player who needs support up top to be at his very best. Defoe was stationed out on the left flank for the final stages of last season, but with Connor Wickham sold on, it’s important he settles into a centre-forward role and rediscovers the prolific streak which once made him one of the most feared strikers in the division.
Prediction – 16th
It’s hard to see anything other than another struggle for Sunderland, even with Advocaat deciding to stay on. There’s a lot of deadwood in the squad and although the Dutchman has tried to freshen things up with some summer purchase, the first XI is likely to be uncomfortably similar to the side which struggled for so long last season.
Nonetheless, the team does have enough to stay up and if players like M’Vila and Lens settle in immediately, push well away from the relegation places. But with a lot of pressure on Defoe to deliver goals and a dearth of creativity to supply him, the Black Cats will be looking over their shoulder for the majority of the campaign.
Expert Opinion – Kristan Heneage (World Soccer Talk)
The summer started quite dramatically for Sunderland when Dick Advocaat u-turned over retirement. He signed a one-year deal which while not giving long-term stability, may help Sunderland build something for the future.
Jeremain Lens seems a very astute pick-up, although Younes Kaboul feels like a hallmark of past mistakes. Adam Matthews brings some energy to full-back but more is still needed. This team were far too close to relegation to be contented and could not blame an inept manager in the same way Newcastle can.
With Leroy Fer failing a medical it means Dick Advocaat now has to find some new targets, while operating on a tight budget. It seems at least like it will get harder before it gets easier for Sunderland.
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