Last year’s position: 17th
Sunderland surprised few, even their own long-suffering fans, when they once again produced a great escape to avoid relegation. As another season approaches, Black Cats fans will hoping that this season will provide a little less stress.
2016/17 Sunderland Season Preview
After Sam Allardyce’s departure to manage England, Sunderland quickly moved for ex-Everton and Manchester United manager David Moyes. Out of work since leaving Real Sociedad last year, Moyes was owner Ellis Short’s first choice. He has signed a four year contract and the hope around Wearside is that some stability will finally come to the club. He may even get the best out of Jack Rodwell, whom he managed successfully at Everton. One step at a time, though.
Positives from last season
Performances at the end of last season improved significantly. Home wins over Chelsea (3-2) and Everton (3-0), along with crucial victories at places such as Norwich City (3-0), helped Sunderland survive. When it matters most, the Black Cats are a match for anyone. They must learn to start the season as they finish it and play for a whole season, not just when fighting for their lives at the end.
The signings of Lamine Koné, Jan Kirchhoff and Wahbi Khazri in January proved to be excellent pieces of business. The trio’s form helped Sunderland on the way to survival. Also, the goals of player of the year Jermain Defoe were instrumental in Sunderland beginning the new season in the Premier League.
Once again a great escape, this time masterminded by the new England manager Sam Allardyce was achieved. It kept Sunderland in the Premier League and with the new TV deal beginning and the money that comes with it, survival was crucial. They even relegated rivals Newcastle United in the process. However, this cannot be deemed a success no matter happy it made supporters. Relegation fights must be consigned to the past and quickly if Sunderland are to make forward steps.
Weaknesses from last season
Aside from the brilliance of Defoe, the goals were too few. This must change if they are to achieve anything close to success. After the top scorer’s 15, the next highest scorer was Fabio Borini with five. A striker or a scoring midfielder to take some of the burden off Defoe must be one of Moyes’ priorities.
Defensively, Sunderland struggled to keep clean sheets. However, once the central defensive pairing of Koné and Younes Kaboul got into their stride the team looked more solid. Tightening the defence further is still required if this season is to be a success. Conceding in 31 separate league games last season must be improved upon.
The team have remained unbeaten during pre season. Four wins and two draws will have given the players, staff and many fans confidence. Last time out they drew 1-1 against German giants Borussia Dortmund who fielded a strong side and who had recently beat Manchester United 4-1. The game brought to an end a good pre-season, which also saw the goals being shared amongst the team. Defoe, Borini, Duncan Watmore, Koné and others found the net. Youth was also given a chance with Joel Asoro in particular impressing when called upon.
Players to look out for
Jermain Defoe’s goals will be key once more. His 18 goals in all competitions are the main reason Sunderland will be playing top-flight football again. He may be close to his mid thirties but the player whom many thought should have been part of the England Euro 2016 squad definitely knows where the goal is.
If January signings Wahbi Khazri, Jan Kirchhoff and Lamine Koné can replicate their form from last season then Sunderland, with the addition of a few new signings in key areas, have the potential to stay clear of those dreaded relegation places.
Also keep an eye out for England Under 21 stars Duncan Watmore and Jordan Pickford. Both impressed last season for club and country and if they continue to develop then they have big futures ahead of them.
In: After the weeks of uncertainty as to who would be manager, Sunderland have only just began recruiting. Only one player has signed so far. Senegal international defender Papy Djilobodji recently signed from Chelsea for £8 million. He signed a four-year deal after spending just one season at Stamford Bridge following a £4 million move from Nantes. More recruits are expected soon.
Key outs: Several players on big wages, surplus to requirements or out of contract have been moved on. These include defender Wes Brown, misfiring striker Danny Graham and Scottish international Steven Fletcher. Italian Emanuele Giaccherini completed a move to Napoli after starring at Euro 2016. Several others have gone out on loan.
There will be no Newcastle game this season due to their relegation to the Championship at the hands of the Black Cats. This season’s derby match therefore will be against newly-promoted Middlesbrough. Other key matches will be against the teams expected to be involved in the bottom half of the table such as Hull City, Watford, Bournemouth and Burnley. Expect Sunderland to up their game too when the so called “big boys” come to town. The Black Cats have proved for many years now that they can give the top teams a fright and beat them.
The home games at the Stadium of Light will be key. David Moyes has stated that he wants the stadium to be a fortress and with the Black Cats’ away form being poor over recent seasons (three wins in each of the last two seasons), home form could be the platform to a better season than what has been seen of late.
If signings in key areas can be made, such as a right-back, a scoring midfielder and a striker to help Defoe for example, then a good season could be ahead. As Sunderland fans know this has been said many times over the years. But if, and it’s a big if, everything clicks into place, David Moyes’s Red and White Army could embark on a good season. Fans will be hoping that the season just does not include a relegation battle for a change. Small steps, yes, but key ones.