Sunderland did very well to survive the threat of relegation once again and they are quickly becoming a specialist in surviving the drop from seemingly perilous positions. In Sam Allardyce, they have a manager who is proven in the top flight and won’t settle for another relegation scare in his first full season in charge. The Black Cats haven’t had stability for a long time and have relied on managerial changes to save their season on a too frequent basis. Allardyce will be looking to launch Sunderland onto the next level and prove his own doubters wrong by mixing it with all of the top level managers that will be in the league next season.
He has already made an impact at the club and in the last third of the season, Sunderland were arguably one of the best sides in the division. They lost just one of their last ten matches and were very hard to beat. They conceded just nine goals in those matches, showing the solid base that was built by Allardyce.
A big reason for their improvement under Allardyce was their January business, as they brought in three players who instantly improved their starting eleven. Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri and Jan Kirchhoff were risky signings as none had played in the Premier League before. However, all settled quickly and provided Sunderland with a stronger defence, while Khazri added creativity and goal threat.
The best signing was Kirchhoff, who looked like a waste of money on his debut against Tottenham at centre half. However, the former Bayern Munich man was a revelation in the defensive midfield role. He made an average of 0.25 blocks and 2.93 interceptions per 90 minutes in the league, which competes with the best holding midfielder in the league, Ngolo Kante. The Frenchman made an average of 0.33 blocks and 4.64 interceptions per match. In terms of tackles won, Kirchhoff registered 3.35 per match, only fractionally worse than the 3.72 recorded by Kante. He looks to be a very good base to the midfield and Sunderland need to build on the impressive spine put together by Allardyce.
There is no doubt that Sunderland need to strengthen their squad. They relied too heavily on the goals of Jermain Defoe this season, and need to add a forward to provide competition. They also need to try and sign Yann M’Vila on a permanent deal as the Frenchman was another key part to their late season success. Their defence remains questionable, especially at full-back. DeAndre Yedlin and Patrick Van Aanholt are both good at going forward, but are not great defensively and Allardyce may choose to strengthen in those positions. Yedlin is a player Sunderland want to keep on a permanent deal, but it may be better for them if Spurs choose to keep him as there are better options at right-back.
Allardyce has proven himself to be a shrewd operator in the transfer market since taking over at the Stadium of Light. He will have a list of players both at home and abroad to target. Sunderland need to back him as he has the ability to stabilise them as a Premier League club, one which doesn’t always have to worry about relegation. He is the best manager they have had in recent history and this could be the start of an upturn in fortunes for the Black Cats, but Sunderland fans will know its a difficult job. If Allardyce isn’t backed and given time, Sunderland will find themselves in the same cycle of boom and bust that they have endured for the last five or six seasons.