Sunderland, much like Stoke City in yesterday’s preview, have firmly established their Premier League status after their promotion into the league three seasons ago under Roy Keane. Now going into their fourth season on the trot – now under the managership of Steve Bruce – the vibes around the Stadium of Light are very positive.
After a spell of dismal form in the middle of last season, the Black Cats were resigned to a 13th placed finish but it should have been much higher. The signing of Darren Bent from Spurs last summer revitalised his and Sunderland’s life and it was his goals that had them where they were in the league, and had it not been for lack of form in other areas other areas of the field – Sunderland were well within a top ten finish.
Sunderland got off to a fantastic start last season, winning five of their opening nine games and remained a mainstay in the top ten all the way until December when poor form hit. After that they failed to win a game in fourteen attempts, the form of a relegation side. But five more wins in their remaining ten games was enough to finish 13th, just shy of the top ten.
Next season Bruce will be looking to scupper any signs of bad form at the beginning, because any repeat of last season’s string of defeats and they mightn’t be so lucky.
Last Season: 13th
Manager: Steve Bruce
In: Titus Bramble (Wigan, £1m), Simon Mignolet (Sint Truidense, £2m), Cristian Riveros (Cruz Azul, undisclosed), Ahmed Al-Muhammadi (ENPPI, season loan)
Out: Lorik Cana (Galatasaray, £5m), Daryl Murphy (Celtic, £1.5m), Conor Hourihane (Ipswich, undisclosed), Jamie Chandler (Darlington, free), Roy O’Donovan (Coventry City, free)
It’s been a busy enough summer for transfer news at Sunderland, with four players arriving, five leaving, a couple more players rumoured to be going and many more linked with moving to the Stadium of Light.
One interesting move is Titus Bramble, who returns to work with Steve Bruce after playing under him at Wigan. Bramble has been an interesting figure in English football, often regarded as one of the worst to grace the Premier League but he got his football in order at Wigan and played terrificly at times. A move to Sunderland is another step in the right direction for the former Newcastle and Ipswich defender.
Also arriving through the doors at Sunderland is Egyptian international Ahmed Al-Muhammadi, on a season long loan from ENPPI. The 22-year-old can play anywhere down the right flank, and is regarded as one of the biggest talents of Egyptian football.
Also signed is Cristian Riveros from Cruz Azul, after playing in the World Cup with Paraguay, where he scored one goal against Slovakia in the group stage. He’s joined by young Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who signs from Sint-Truidense – and it is believed Sunderland beat a number of clubs, including Udinese and PSV Eindhoven, to the 21-year-old’s signature.
The sale of Lorik Cana to Galatasaray came as a surprise to many, especially after his fantastic single season at Sunderland. Bruce may consider bringing in another centre midfielder to bolster the position. Also leaving is Daryl Murphy, who are a few loan spells away from the club, joins Celtic in the SPL.
Before the window shuts there could be a few more names going through the doors, but the squad is in a good position and meets all the criteria needed.
Tactics: Steve Bruce is another advocate of the 4-4-2 formation, and rarely changed that last season. With Andy Reid and Steed Malbranque out wide the team doesn’t have superior wing play but they do like to play behind the defence and use Darren Bent’s pace, often dragging him (or Fraizer Campbell) out into wide positions. The loss of Lorik Cana is huge, but Jordan Henderson is a great young player and is capable of holding his own in the centre alongside Lee Cattermole. It is a very dynamic, vibrant young central partnership that should flourish. Bruce should use the attacking instincts of Al-Muhammadi from the right back position.
Key Player: It’s not often a team’s key player is a striker, but that’s the case for Sunderland. Darren Bent has revived his career at Sunderland and it’s his goals that has them where they are. It was a smart move from Bruce to spend so much money on the former Tottenham forward, but one that’s paying off with his vital goals.
Fixtures: Sunderland will be happy to kick-off their campaign at home to Birmingham, in what should be an evenly matched tie. They then visit West Brom at the Hawthorns in another winnable game, before a home against Manchester City, an away game against Wigan and a trip to Arsenal.
First Five Fixtures: Birmingham (H), West Brom (A), Manchester City (H), Wigan (A), Arsenal (A)
Where will they finish? It is a very strong unit that has been built, with a decent defence and excellent attacking options. The loss of Lorik Cana is big to the starting eleven, but the options there should do a good job. If Darren Bent repeats last season form, and if they can avoid any mis-season mishaps. 11th
Read all of our Season Previews here.