Last Season: 16th.
Say hello to your new teammates: Lorik Cana, Frazier Campbell, Paulo da Silva, Darren Bent, Lee Cattermole.
Close the door on your way out: Michael Chopra, Dean Whitehead, Greg Halford, Dwight Yorke, David Connolly.
Predicted star: Darren Bent has lots of critics, many of them at Spurs but there’s no denying that he scores goals. He was Tottenham’s top scorer last season which says a lot about the way they work if they’re willing to let him go. In Kenwyne Jones he should have an ideal strike partner whose strength and ability to hold up the ball will complement Bent’s speed and play off the last man. I mentioned in a betting preview that you can get 50/1 on him to be top goalscorer which is a great each way bet. I reckon he’ll get 15 league goals for sure.
Needs a big year: Kieran Richardson was being touted as a regular England player for the problem left wing position not too long ago but he lost his way somewhat in the last season or two. He doesn’t have any real rivals in that area (Andy Reid is too slow to play wide) and he be looked to for service to the new look strikeforce.
One to watch: Lorik Cana was signed this summer from Marseille and immediately installed as captain, which shows how highly Bruce regards him. A tough tackling midfielder with an eye for goal, the 26 year old Albanian should fit right in the Premier League. I think the duo of him and fellow new signing Lee Cattermole will be amongst the better central midfield partnerships this season.
What they want to happen: Steve Bruce to work his magic and lift Sunderland away from the annual struggle to avoid relegation back to the Championship. Top half could well be in sight.
Nightmare scenario: Sunderland’s defence proves to be a weak link as they fail to respond to Bruce’s organisational skills.
Plan A: Become tough to beat by tightening up at the back. The midfield of Cattermole and Cana is aggressive and defensive enough to allow Malbranque and Richardson to create down the flanks. A big man and pace merchant duo up front will try to improve on Sunderland’s measly 34 goals last season.
Plan B, just in case: Play it direct to Jones, whose underrated creative skills will hold the play up before playing in Bent.
Predicted finish: 9th.
Why? There is cause for optimism at the Stadium of Light this season. After the drama of Roy Keane leaving mid-season and Ricky Sbragia only just keeping them up, there was a need for some stability and re-assessment. Bringing in Steve Bruce is quite a coup – I think he’s amongst the best managers outside the top four. The signings are no longer limited to Irish reserves, Man United rejects and other various cloggers.
Imaginative, good quality players have been brought in and most of the Wearsider’s needs have been addressed. A new look midfield will provide bite and improve the side’s away form. Cattermole was linked with Liverpool while Cana is an aggressive, destructive yellow card machine (this is a good thing though). Instant leadership on the pitch too.
Should work well with Bent.
Darren Bent does miss a lot but he also scores a lot and he should turn some of the 1-0 losses into draws and some of the draws into wins. If Bruce can get the defence organised as well as he did at Wigan then they will be much harder to break down. Only Paulo da Silva has been signed in defence but Anton Ferdinand is a good enough player to base the back four on. Looking to the future, Bruce has an extensive scouting/contacts network which will bear fruit in coming seasons (see Valencia, Palacios, Zaki etc). I think Sunderland are in line for an excellent season and led by Jones and Bent should get enough wins to progress to the top half of the table.