Sunderland Season Preview: The Thoughts Of Jonathan Wilson

Would the signing of Edin Dzeko be too far-fetched for Sunderland?

Everybody enjoy yesterday's season preview (click here to read) from A Love Supreme's Martyn McFadden? We certainly hope so, and for fans of that sort of thing, we've got even more in store for you as the week continues. Curiously, this one also comes with an ALS link...

Joining us today is leading football journalist, author, and editor of the incredible The Blizzard publication - Jonathan Wilson - who's also SAFC to the core.

I'm sure you'll want to read what Jonathan has to say on the club, so we'll not deprive you any further...

As far as incomings this summer it's been relatively quiet round here. What have you made of Sunderland's business and what do you make of the potential names that have been linked to the club?

Jonathan Wilson: Deeply worrying on all kinds of levels. The need of a centre-forward is obvious and we could do with more quality in the middle of midfield. And I know we've been saying this for most of the last decade, but can we have a left-back, please? The one real doubt about Martin O'Neill is his transfer record and this isn't exactly encouraging. And if Sessegnon goes...

There have also been plenty of outgoings, with big-earners such as Craig Gordon, George McCartney and so forth all departing, while the sale of Michael Turner raised a few eyebrows too. Are there any more players you feel are on the chopping block?

JW: I feel sorry for Gordon because he was very, very good before the second broken arm. But he was clearly behind Mignolet - and maybe Westwood - and there's no point keeping three good keepers of that age. To be honest I lost track of McCartney's yo-yo between us and West Ham a few years ago but given past form he'll probably be back in January 2014 anyway. Turner's departure maybe is strange but I guess we have a glut of central defenders, especially with Cuellar arriving, and if this is a way of creating money for new signings then so be it. He was one of those players who was never quite as good as you thought he ought to be given physique etc.

As to other departures, I guess one of the many central midfielders may be at risk if we do get somebody of real quality in that area. And Campbell, Ji, Wickham and Noble is one too many centre-forwards if we do bring somebody in, so I guess they're all scrapping not to be the one sold.

To position yourself on the fringes of the world of fantasy for a moment, who do you think would be a dream signing for Sunderland in the next few weeks, although isn't that far removed from possibility?

JW: Is Edin Dzeko on loan totally absurd? Maybe it is but he's the sort of player we could really do with. But actually, to take the question more seriously than was probably intended, what Sunderland need is to become the Udinese of England, scouting globally, investing in vast numbers of kids with the awareness that we keep the best talent until they're 23 or 24 then sell them on. I know a balance needs to be struck because we don't want relegation to be a threat, but I'd rather see £12million invested in 12 promising African or South American 17-year olds than one Steven Fletcher. In that respect Ji is the sort of signing we should be making.

Over the summer there's been a bit of a change of style into a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation, although one of the main talking points has been wondering where Stephane Sessegnon fits into this. If you were the gaffer, where would you play him in order to get the best of him?

JW: I've no problem with playing him on one flank and Seb Larsson on the other, or even using him as a false nine between Larsson and McClean, although a personal preference would be 4-2-3-1 with Cattermole and Gardner deep, Larsson, Sessegnon and McClean as the attacking trident and then a central striker.

Martin O'Neill starts his first full season as Sunderland boss after a mixed year last year. How do you see the season going? More like the early ‘glory' days or more like the post-FA Cup run of disappointment?

JW: I'm worried but then I'm always worried. If you look at the stats all that changed in those early weeks under O'Neill was that shots started flying in. Pass completion, chance creation, tackle success rates all stayed about the same. Now you can't bank on 30-yard screamers so, while I think 12th or so is probably realistic, there is a slight anxiety there.

There's a few players in the final year, or final two years of their contract at the club. For whom do you think this season it's crucial they begin to show their worth to the team and the fans?

JW: Everybody. I'm not sure there's a single player in this side I wouldn't sell if the price were right; there's nobody I'm that attached to.

Time for some quick predictions if we could, and we'll start with your prediction for Player Of The Season, and why?

JW: Cattermole. Hopefully this is the year when he finally stops being an idiot and plays as he can (and as he did against, say, Arsenal). He's a top-class player who hides it behind dumb tackles.

And your prediction for Young Player Of The Season?

JW: Ryan Noble. Let's hope so, anyway. The England Under-20 coach Brian Eastick really rates him and his goals record is excellent. Probably needs to bulk up a little, but I'm hoping for some goalscoring cameos.

Where do you think Sunderland will finish next season?

JW: Twelfth. Which would secure a seventh straight top-flight season, the best since the first relegation in 1958.

And finally, is this the year we claw back some of the bragging rights when it comes to them up the road? Can we beat Newcastle, and can we finish above them?

JW: I fear not. They were alarmingly good last season.

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Many thanks as always to Jonathan for answering our questions. For more great stuff from Mr Wilson check out The Blizzard and subscribe online HERE. Also follow the man himself on Twitter for incisive football chat @JonaWils

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