Sunderland have big hopes this season under Gus Poyet, as they have done previously under the plethora of talented managers that have led the Black Cats into a new season. The likes of Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill and Paulo Di Canio have all failed to push on from encouraging starts, but Poyet looks like he could lead Sunderland to better things. Last season, they escaped from a near impossible position after impressive wins against Chelsea and Manchester United. The Uruguayan also produced excellent results in both cup competitions, showing he can manage the squad well.
Although many still question Poyet still, it’s impossible to underplay his achievements last season given the perilous start that Sunderland had. He had no experience in the league and still managed to keep the club up. Connor Wickham should have a bigger role to play this season after his excellent run in the final few league matches. He showed he could play in the top flight and at times Sunderland struggled to score goals consistently, he will fix that.
It’s an interesting season for the Black Cats, given they should steer relatively clear of the drop given they have a stronger squad than at least four or five clubs, but they don’t have enough quality for a top half push. A dull season in mid season wouldn’t be too bad for Sunderland. They have had too many brushes with the drop in recent seasons and a stabilising season under Poyet could be just the tonic they need. Sunderland as a club has huge potential if you take the squad, manager, finances and facilities into consideration, but they need to build steadily over three or four years before they become a consistent top half side. The cup competitions could prove again to be entertaining for the fans as Poyet clearly respects them unlike certain other top flight managers.
Sunderland haven’t been as busy as some expected in Poyet’s first summer in charge. They started early getting in Jordi Gomez, Costel Pantilimon and Billy Jones on free transfers. This was wise business from the club as all three have experience in the top flight and will add depth to the squad. Also as no transfer fee has been paid for any of them, they are very low risk. They were later followed by Patrick van Aaanholt from Chelsea, who has been capped at international level for Holland, showing his ability at left back. He has been on a variety of loan spells, including one at rivals Newcastle and will be keen to become a regular at Sunderland.
The big name addition has been Jack Rodwell, who has joined for a fee of around £10m. The midfielder has had a disappointing two seasons at Manchester City and will be keen to return to the form he showed at Everton which saw him on the edge of the England squad, but the spell at City may have had a lasting effect. Rodwell also suffers from injuries frequently, which played a part in him only playing 16 league matches in the past two seasons in Manchester.
On the other hand, they have seen a few players depart. Phil Bardsley and Jack Colback have both left the club to join Stoke and Newcastle respectively, which is a worry considering Sunderland received a fee for neither. They were key for the team under Poyet and they will need to be replaced. A similar situation is developing with Connor Wickham and they need to either get him signed to a new deal or cash in now. They can’t keep losing first team players for nothing. Craig Gardner has also departed to West Brom, while Carlos Cueller, Andrea Dossena, Oscar Ustari, Ignacio Scocco, David Vaughan and Kieran Westwood have also moved on.
Steven Fletcher will be the man Sunderland look to this season to impress. He was signed for a big fee and showed early quality, but last season was a write off only scoring three times and suffering from plenty of injuries. At the age of 27, the Scot is reaching his peak and will want to have a few high scoring seasons at the top level to make a real name for himself. If he stays injury free and returns to the form he showed at the start of the 2012/13 season, he could be one of the stars of the season. In the Premier League, especially at the bottom, having a striker who can guarantee anywhere from 10-15 goals is an asset as they could be the difference between staying up and going down. It’s no coincidence that Fulham, Cardiff and Norwich all struggled with their strike force. The goals of Connor Wickham kept Sunderland up last year, they will need a consistent goal scorer for the entire campaign this time around, it’s more likely that will be Fletcher given his experience.
Sunderland will have a decent season this year, but a push for a top half finish may be too far, considering Newcastle, Swansea, West Ham, Southampton and Stoke are all likely to have more quality. The Black Cats should have a more comfortable season this year, with a relegation fight unlikely, but it’s impossible to predict Sunderland. They have had promising dawns before which have imploded before Christmas. A season without a managerial change should be the aim as stability could have a calming impact on the club and secure them as a steady top flight club. A cup run could be on the cards again this season.