2015-16 EPL Season Previews: Sunderland AFC

The Blog FC are previewing every English Premier League side ahead of the 2015-16 season. Who’s arrived? Who’s departed? What do they need this coming season? Who will be the key man? All of that, and more, is answered below, as Cameron Ritchie previews Sunderland’s season ahead.

EPL Season Preview Hub

Sunderland AFC

sunderland-afc-crest-black-cats

By Cameron Ritchie

Manager: Dick Advocaat
Captain: John O’Shea
Ins: Younes Kaboul (Tottenham), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Sebastian Coates (Liverpool), Adam Matthews (Celtic), Ricardo Alvarez (Internazionale), Santiago Vergini (Estudiantes), Valentin Roberge, Charalampos Mavrias (End of Loan).
Outs: Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace), Anthony Réveillère (Free Transfer),  Santiago Vergini (Getafe CF, Loan).
Last Season: 16th

2014-15 was… Another relegation scrap for Sunderland, with a lot of reasons as to why this continues to happen. With 17 draws (the second highest in PL history) you can interpret positively with the sometimes stellar performances of the back pairing, John O’Shea and Wes Brown, holding down the fort in front of the often impregnable goalkeeping of Costel Pantilimon. Or you can consider the serious, apparently endemic problem that the Black Cats face; they just can’t score goals.

Each season that passes, no player really stands out as the key striker and scoring only a meagre 31 goals (the second lowest in the league ahead only of relegated Burnley) is realistically not good enough to remain in the Premier League. That’s where the shot stopping ability of the towering Romanian was the main reason they survived the drop, but just like last season with Vito Mannone (or the one before with Simon Mignolet) between the sticks, goalkeepers for Sunderland either don’t hang around or just can’t maintain their form.

Dropping Manager Gus Poyet in March was really leaving it until the last moment, but Dick Advocaat’s experience was evidently pivotal (along with January injection Jermain Defoe and his proven scoring ability shining from time to time) in keeping Sunderland in the top flight.

Losing to Southampton 8-0 was definitely the lowlight of the season and veterans of the Stadium of Light are unlikely to allow a repeat anytime soon (own goal of the season goes to Santiago Vergini), but continuing to beat bitter rivals Newcastle home and away seem to give this team ethereal energy and no small amount of thanks to their strong fan base.

2015-16 will be… The same thing we do every year, Pinky. Below average start to the season, sack manager in January, beat Newcastle twice, survive relegation through six goals in three games for U20s striker Duncan Watmore.

This year has a bit more promise than the last two. They have a proven, league-winning manager in Dick Advocaat, opposed to the forever disappointing ‘Miracle’ Gus and the knee-sliding lunacy of Paolo Di Canio. Advocaat was supposed to retire from club football management at the end of last season, and did so to fulfil the wishes of his wife (who threatened to leave him if he stayed in the north east any longer).

But then he came back. Two weeks of speculation as to who would lead the Black Cats this season ended with the return of the Dick. Promising only one more year, the 67-year-old gave Chairman Ellis Short a demand that he get the funds to solidify Sunderland’s place in the Premier League for years to come.

Permanently signing Sebastian Coates (on loan from Liverpool last season) and bringing in Kaboul will hopefully solidify and add depth at the back behind Brown and O’Shea. Jeremain Lens seems like an exciting prospect out wide but Sunderland will need more.

No major losses from the first team means Sunderland are still stuck with the strugglers from last year, but Advocaat will be the difference as to whether they can start the season strongly and not be last by December again.

Goals were hard to come by last season, but if Defoe can score at a decent rate a mid-table finish could be possible.
Goals were hard to come by last season, but if Defoe can score at a decent rate a mid-table finish could be possible.

Key Player: Jermain Defoe. Look, he’s not getting any younger (he turns 33 in October), but Sunderland can’t get too picky especially considering they got him almost free by trading Premier League flop Jozy Altidore to Toronto FC. Currently ranked as the 14th highest goal scorer in Premier League history, he certainly knows how to get the ball where it belongs. What remains to be seen this season is whether or not the Sunderland midfield can get the ball to him to do what he does best. If he can score goals, Sunderland should flourish (out of the relegation zone).

What, or whom, do Sunderland need? They owe their fans an end of season that doesn’t involve nail biting until the last day. To do that? Score goals. They’ve flirted with the idea of Charlie Austin or Jordan Rhodes, and Moussa Sow seems like an okay option, but apart from Austin, Sunderland continue to look for strikers that just don’t have Premier League experience – which can often be the difference between success and failure in the bottom half, as evidenced by Defoe adding four goals in his 17 games this year. While that isn’t a ground-breaking conversion rate, all Sunderland needs is two or three players scoring consistently at that rate to hopefully finish mid-table. I hate to say it, but just sign Borini.

The Blog FC predicted finish: 16th