2012/13 EPL preview – Sunderland
The Roar continues it’s preview of the 2012/13 season. This time we take a look at Sunderland.
2011/2012 Result: 13th
Manager: Martin O’Neill
Ins: Carlos Cuellar (Aston Villa)
Outs: Michael Turner (Norwich), Marcos Angeleri (Estudiantes), Michael Liddle (Accrington Stanley), Jordan Cook (Charlton), Asamoah Gyan (Al-Ain), Cristian Riveros (Kayserispor), Trevor Carson (Bury), Oumare Tounkara (Free), George McCartney (West Ham), Craig Gordon (Free)
After taking over from Steve Bruce in December last year, Martin O’Neill has spent his first summer in charge at Sunderland cleaning out a squad bloated by too many bit-part players.
Usefully, rather than leaving on free transfers, most of these players have been sold on, both creating funds for incoming transfers and cutting the wage bill.
So far the only confirmed transfer in for Sunderland is the astute acquisition of Carlos Cuellar from Aston Villa. Cuellar has proven EPL experience and at 30 should be at the peak of his powers as a centre-back.
But where has the rest of the money gone? The Black Cats have been ominously quiet during the transfer window – though this has not been through lack of trying.
“It seems to have stalled somewhat on all fronts, but I am hoping to improve the team – I think we have to give ourselves some sort of chance for next season. I think that’s pretty obvious.” O’Neill explained.
One move that looks close to coming to fruition is Steven Fletcher from Wolves. Many may bemoan the $12m price tag, but Fletcher’s quality shouldn’t be underestimated. He has averaged a goal every 2.7 games over the past two years, in a team that were at times worse than woeful.
Considering the quality of Sunderland’s established midfield, if they can provide Fletcher with consistently good service, that $12m price tag may not seen so unreasonable in 12 months’ time.
KEY PLAYER James McClean.
While fantasy football favourite Stephane Sessegnon may well be the Black Cats best attacking weapon, it will up to James McClean to shift some of the focus away from the mercurial Frenchman.
After bursting on to the scene in the second half of last year with some first class displays, the pressure is on McClean not fall victim to second-season syndrome.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Don’t let the lack of signings fool you, Sunderland will do well this year. Martin O’Neill is a quality manager and now has a full pre-season with the squad under his belt. Remember – this is the man who guided Aston Villa to three consecutive sixth place finishes under VERY similar conditions at Villa Park.
There are plenty of players in the squad who have shown glimpses of genuine talent. Sebastian Larsson is a set-piece specialist and you can pencil him in for at least two wonder-goals each season, Craig Gardener has had days where he bossed a Premier League midfield a la Frank Lampard.
Both Kieran Richardson and Fraizer Campbell have at one time or another been touted as future English team candidates.
O’Neill just needs to generate some consistency within this side. Which he will.
The Blog FC’s prediction: eighth. While they are nowhere near the quality of the top echelon of the league, Sunderland will undoubtedly be a tough prospect for most teams – especially at the Stadium of Light.
Expect them to fight it out for places in the top half of the table with second tier teams – Everton, Liverpool, Newcastle and the like.
Lee Cattermole – the captain – has received a card in almost half his games as a Sunderland player (32 cards in 73 appearances).
While he is not at Joey Barton level quite yet, Cattermole is certainly on his way to taking up the mantle of biggest grub in the EPL.
Late last year he was arrested and ordered to pay a fine of over £4,000 for damaging five cars along Stowell St – just round the corner from Sunderland’s arch rival Newcastle’s home ground.