Steve Bruce certainly hasn’t sat around during the transfer window, spending over 20 million pounds to strengthen his squad for a push into the top six. Sunderland does not possess enough quality to make this target a reality.
Asamoah Gyan, after his performance in the World Cup, impressed at times in his first year at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland will need a more consistent showing from their record signing. Around him, Steve Bruce has spent heavily to rebuild his strike force after the sale of Bent and the return of young Danny Welbeck to Manchester. Ten million pounds were spent on the youthful combination of Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-won. The young English striker was linked with a number of top clubs, but he chose to bring his tattoos to Sunderland, where he should have a greater likelihood of playing first team football. Having scored 10 goals in 33 appearances for the Chunnam Dragons and six in 11 for the South Korean national team, the twenty-year-old Korean can definitely finish, but does he have the requisite skills necessary for the Premier League? To provide cover, Arsenal’s Danish misfit Nicklas Bendtner was brought in on loan, and young Fraizer Campbell, another Manchester United reject, are available.
On paper, Bruce appears to have dealt well to fill in his midfield shortcomings. Stéphane Sessègnon adds an attacking dimension; he, along with budget signing El-Mohamady, will provide the midfield spark that has been lacking. The Welsh international David Vaughan has been brought in from Blackpool, where he demonstrated silky passing skills last season. Craig Gardner and dead-ball specialist Sebastian Larsson have been salvaged from the wreckage of Birmingham City’s relegation from the Premier League, and stalwart defensive midfielder Lee Cattermole will be eager to add to his collection of red card suspensions. How this largely new group gel together will determine Sunderland’s season.
The plan to solidify a disappointingly gaffe-prone defence seems to revolve around snapping up as many Manchester United fringe players as possible. This transfer window, Wes Brown and the reliable John O’Shea were brought in – two unspectacular defenders with plenty of experience winning trophies. While there are obvious doubts about Brown’s ability to stay healthy, it is conceivable that there will be matches where the Mackems send out a defensive line completely comprised of former United players – Phil Bardsley, Brown, O’Shea, and Kieran Richardson. Hopefully, Bruce’s love of all things United will not stunt the development of Michael Dawson, who has the ability to be one of England’s best defenders. Sunderland fans will not be disappointed to see Titus Bramble’s playing time reduced. John Mensah provides depth.
Bruce has an interesting cadre of goalkeepers at his disposal, having added the promising Kieren Westwood this summer to challenge oft-injured Craig Gordon and Simon Mignolet for the number one jersey. Mignolet’s performance of late should assure his starting place, but Gordon always seems to be favoured.
Keys to the season
Bruce will be hoping Asamoah Gyan can fire on all cylinders this year – and make people forget that Darren Bent ever wore the red and white stripes (or dated Bruce’s daughter). If they can provide the Ghanaian with service, then goals will be nothing to worry about.
Two very experienced Premier League players, John O’Shea and Wes Brown, have been acquired, who, hopefully, can inspire their teammates with their experience and confidence to solidify what last season was a very shaky defensive unit.
Sunderland seem to have a squad good enough to do what they did in the early half of last season’s campaign, and also sustain it until the campaign finishes. With gritty, hard-working, and proven players, there’s no reason a sixth or seventh-place finish isn’t attainable.
Significant Ins & Outs
In: Connor Wickham (Ipswich, £8m), Craig Gardner (Birmingham, £6m), Wes Brown, John O'Shea (both Manchester United, undisclosed), Ahmed El-Mohamady (ENPPI, £2m), Wong-Don Ji (Chunnam Dragons, £2m), David Vaughan (Blackpool, free), Sebastian Larsson (Birmingham, free), Keiren Westwood (Coventry, free), Nicklas Bendtner (Arsenal, loan)
Out: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool, £20m), Anton Ferdinand (QPR, £3m), Steed Malbranque (St Etienne, undisclosed), Cristian Riveros (Kayserispor, loan), Boudewijn Zenden, (released), George McCartney (West Ham, loan)
Asamoah Gyan. Sunderland’s record signing now has a season under his belt, with a clean bill of health he’ll be looking at a target of twenty goals and has the players around him to achieve that target.
Opening fixtures and results
@Liverpool (1-1), Newcastle (0-1), @Swansea (0-0), Chelsea (Sept. 10), Stoke (Sept. 18), @Norwich City (Sept. 26)
Bruce should be aiming for a minimum of eight points from these first six fixtures, but losing at home to Newcastle must be seen as three points dropped.
Where will they finish?
This Sunderland side are more than good enough to lay claim to a Europa Cup place, and that’ll be the target for this year. If the new strikers can get going, along with a decent midfield, Sunderland should have a good year.