The FourFourTwo Season Preview 2015/16: Sunderland
The Black Cats must improve upon another season that ended with them changing manager and narrowly avoiding relegation (2010/11 was the last time they finished the campaign with the same boss that started it). Although handing the reins over to last term’s saviour Dick Advocaat - the oldest manager in the league - may not be the best move for the long-term future of the club, if the Dutchman can advance them up the table then he could lay the foundations for sustained success. Too many draws were the problem last time out, with the north-east side’s strikers failing to find consistent form in front of goal. Must score better.
What the fan says
Sunderland season ticket holder Tom Davis gives FourFourTwo his opinion on the season ahead.
Why they'll do well
Chairman Ellis Short promised to back the ‘Little General’ in the transfer market and Dutch winger Jeremain Lens appears a sound purchase; he and Adam Johnson should offer Sunderland decent penetration from the flanks. Jordi Gomez and Seb Larsson will chip in with goals from midfield, while the Stadium of Light outfit hope to get the best out of Jermain Defoe over a full season. With Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham able to offer a physical presence to create space for Defoe and runners from deep, perhaps it’s just a dash of creativity that is needed at the sharp end. At the back, a reliance on seasoned campaigners such as John O’Shea and Wes Brown will be reduced thanks to the outlay on Younes Kaboul and Sebastien Coates.
Why they'll do badly
Short has previously proven happy to sack the man in the hot seat if things aren’t going to plan, and the pressure will mount on Advocaat if much more money is spent. If the Black Cats’ boss hasn't invested wisely and done enough research on his new recruits, or if they take too long to adapt to their new surroundings, it could be a long campaign ahead. More goals are needed from the team that, barring Burnley, scored the fewest in 2014/15 and Advocaat must hope that Defoe & Co. find the net with regularity, or that a top-class striker is added to the squad who can give them that potency in the final third. Serious expenditure at neighbouring Newcastle has meant the battle to become the north-east’s top team has now taken on an interesting twist.
The big questions...
1) Can Advocaat marshal the troops and survive until May?
The spirit and fight shown by Sunderland under the former Rangers boss last season shows that he can fashion a united team. More improved performances are needed – such as the gutsy 0-0 draw at the Emirates in late May – for the club to achieve its aims in 2016.
- Adam Matthews (Celtic)
- Sebastian Coates (Liverpool)
- Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kyiv)
- Younes Kaboul (Tottenham Hotspur)
- Santiago Vergini (Getafe)
- El-Hadji Ba (Charlton Athletic)
- Santiago Vergini (Getafe, loan)
2) Which of their strikers is going to score 20 next term?
Defoe’s four goals in 14 league games last season was decent but the onus is on him to record even more strikes in 2015/16. At 32, has the former England sniper still got the sparky play to do just that? And if not, can Fletcher put aside his previous injury problems and poor form and hit a career best tally (12 league goals) to aid the Black Cats’ cause?
3) Can they protect leads?
The Black Cats posted the worst record in the league last season for securing points after scoring the first goal. They need to learn to close out games if they get ahead and the players must show more resolve, though their more experienced tactician at the helm may help here.
Key player: Jeremain Lens
The former Dynamo Kiev winger has a good scoring record for both club and country (eight goals in 29 caps for the Netherlands) and will hope to replicate that form in the Premier League. A predominately right-footed inverted wideman, Lens can also put in a good whipped cross with his left foot that the likes of Wickham and Fletcher will hope to prosper from.
What we'll be saying come May
Sunderland have escaped relegation once again thanks to Big Sam’s appointment back in February. Now they need stability and investment.
To see where FourFourTwo think Sunderland will finish – along with a bespoke two-page preview – get our special new season issue, out Saturday 1 August.