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Leagues: EPL

Premiership Preview–13. Sunderland


Backed by the loudest supporters in the Premier League last season, measured at average peak volume at 129.2 decibels, almost as loud as a jet, Sunderland will look to improve on last season’s respectable 15th-place finish. The Black Cats were the only newly-promoted team to survive in the Premiership, an accomplishment in itself, but manager Roy Keane has made it clear through his summer signings that he wants more from his club.

Keane, the youngest manager in England’s top division, has added six players so far, four of whom figure to play right away in some capacity or another, including the trio acquired from Tottenham. Pascal Chimbonda will be the first-choice right back and bring stability to a position in which Keane started six different players last season, four at least eight times. Steed Malbranque can play virtually anywhere in midfield, but will likely feature on the left flank for Sunderland as Ross Wallace was loaned out to Preston North End. Teemu Tainio is another versatile player, capable of playing both full back positions or on either wing, and could be used as quality cover in case of injury. El-Hadji Diouf was signed from Bolton and will play either as Kenwyne Jones’ partner up front or on the right wing opposite Malbranque.

Sunderland lost no one of importance; Andy Cole was the biggest name to leave the Stadium of Light, but he started only three games up front and was no higher than fourth on the depth chart at that position. Greg Halford started eight games at right back last season, but was deemed expendable when Chimbonda signed on.

Adding Malbranque, Tainio, and Diouf reinforced Sunderland’s strongest asset — their midfield. Aside from those three, who were just discussed, Carlos Edwards and Kieran Richardson are speedy, capable wide players when healthy, Grant Leadbitter can play any midfield position and is Sunderland through and through, Dwight Yorke brings much-needed leadership and experience to the otherwise-young roster from his central role, Dickson Etuhu is the club’s holding player above the back four, and the captain, Dean Whitehead, will play anywhere he’s asked to play but is naturally a center midfielder.

Projected Starting Lineup (4-4-2):
GK: Craig Gordon

RB: Chimbonda
CB: Nyron Nosworthy
CB: Danny Higginbotham
LB: Danny Collins

*RMF: Edwards
DMF: Etuhu
CMF: Whitehead (captain)
LMF: Malbranque

*ST: Diouf
ST: Michael Chopra

*This is pending the results of Kenwyne Jones’ knee operation. When Jones is healthy, he’ll start with Chopra and push Diouf to right wing in place of Edwards.

As we saw last year, this formation isn’t rigid and Keane really swaps players in and out of the starting lineup based on their form, especially in the midfield. The four I listed there will change regularly, probably more so than any team I’ve previewed so far, because the club is deepest in that area. Yorke will play his share of games, especially against the league’s better teams, Richardson will get his chances, as will Leadbitter. Keane also employs a 4-5-1 from time to time, in which instance Jones is the lone striker.

Sunderland has their hands full to start the season with three consecutive games against European participants — home to Liverpool (Champions League), at Tottenham (UEFA Cup), and home against Manchester City (UEFA Cup). After that, they’ll see Wigan, host Middlesbrough in the first Tees-Wear Derby of the season, travel to Aston Villa, and welcome Arsenal to the Stadium of Light. Those are seven difficult matches, to say the least, so anything more than seven points would have to be considered a bonus.

Late November and early December brings a stretch of four winnable games in five: Bolton, West Brom, @ Hull City, and Blackburn. Those games are interrupted only by Roy Keane’s second return to Old Trafford as a manager, which should be entertaining.

January could be a pivotal month for the Black Cats. They’ll play two local derbies — @ Middlesbrough to start the month, @ Newcastle to end it in the Tyne-Wear fixture — and host Aston Villa and Fulham in between. All bets are off in those rivalry games, but they really need to win of those and it’d be nice from a Sunderland point of view to win those two matches at home.

They close out the year with home games against Everton and Chelsea, sandwiched around trips to Bolton and Portsmouth. The run-in is another tough month for Keane’s scrappy bunch, though they should be safe in the table by then.

Bottom Line: Keane showed me a lot last season, his first as a Premiership manager, and he’s only going to get better as the years progress. The club has spent money and added some nice pieces to the roster, which is now significantly deeper than it had been. A lot hinges on the health of Jones; he’s their main scoring threat and if he’s out for any considerable length of time, they may be in trouble. Playing in front of that boisterous crowd is a huge advantage — 9 home wins was 8th-most in the league last year — but they have to improve on the road. With the experience Keane has brought in, I think they will.

We’ll move closer to the top half of the table tomorrow as the countdown continues with places 12 and 11.

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  1. jml

    August 24, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    if anyone saw the game against tottenam, with the winning goal by another new signing,now i think THE BLACK CATS not only belong in the EPL, they should be a serious threat too the top half teams.

  2. john mclaughlin

    August 18, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    although sunderland lost their opener against liverpool,they at the very least deserved a tie,they showed quality with their new signings and now they definately look like a EPL side.

  3. Max Wartbug

    August 4, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Indeed the midfield is deep, but do not overlook the 17 year old Luscombe who has taken part in a few of the pre season games and I think will take part this year

  4. JohnDS

    August 4, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Barring injury Mr Keane will surely pick all his new signings Collins and Noz are vastly improved players but there will always be doubts, a centre half, left full back and forward are vital if Sunderland are to make the progress we hope for, fingers crossed. PS Harry Redknapp? Arfur Daley more like, “Yeh, cam to Portsmuff your a crackin’ playa my son, ‘Jimmy Case’! Oi hang abaaaat gav’na your kids not wurf ‘at, he’s was shit larst season! Knees up Muva Braaan…..” Can’t wait for the next episode

  5. Michael

    August 4, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Whitehead will be starting, so will Diouf, and so will Nosworthy.

  6. Russell

    August 4, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    The team should be as follows:


    Collins (LB)
    Chimbonda (RB)

    Richardson/ Malbranque (LW)
    Edwards/ Malbranque (RW)

    Jones ( when fit )

  7. Danny

    August 4, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    personally i think the team should be this



    reid (C)


  8. Michael

    August 4, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Also, Reid played more on the left side of midfield anyway last season, now that I look at it..

  9. Michael

    August 4, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Collins is the left back and made 30 starts there last season, so that rules him out. Evans and Higginbotham will compete for that job alongside Nosworthy, but I’m tipping the former to play more often. Anderson is rubbish and played only one league game with Sunderland and gave away a PK in that game.

    You could be right about Reid, but that’s why I said the midfield will rotate. They’re both going to get plenty of playing time, so that starting lineup I projected isn’t rigid in midfield at all.

  10. Paul Davison

    August 4, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Andy Reid would normally chose ahead of Etuhu in midfield. Danny Higginbotham is unlikely to be first choice CB alongside Nosworthy: this could be Collins, Anderson or Evans/Balde.

  11. Weston

    August 4, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Their opening day victory over my Spurs last season was telling of the quality play they are capable of and I expect them to fight for mid-table this year. Their midfield additions will be the key to their success, as both Tainio and Malbranque are workhorses.

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