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.