Taking Stock Of The Sunderland Squad - What Can We Expect?

Paul Thomas

July is upon is. That means the out-of-contract players have officially left, the Bosman arrivals have officially joined, and pre-season is creeping up on us fast. So just where do we stand, squad wise, right now and how can we expect that to dictate the summer transfer activity?

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Goalkeepers

We have: Vito Mannone, Costel Pantilimon

This one one area in which the squad is looking quite strong. Both players are in the mid-20s, contracted for 3 and 4 years respectively, arrived at the club with a degree of pedigree and are well adjusted to the English game.

You'd imagine that Mannone will start the season in possession of the gloves, but for a side who struggled so much to defend set-pieces last season a 6'8" goalkeeper could be seen as a huge asset. It may well be, in fact, a principle reason why Pantilimon was signed.

We need: Nothing

Defenders

We have: John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Billy Jones, Mobido Diakite, Valentin Roberge

Okay, that looks pretty grim. One right back (and at the time of writing he's only been here a day), no left backs at all, two very much fringe players who totally failed to prove themselves last season and two the wrong side of 30 - one of which you always feel could break down physically at any second.

We need: A lot!

Gus Poyet is on record saying that he wants seven defenders in his squad for next season, with one of them able to cover multiple positions. Santiago Vergini was named as the man he'd like for that spot in the squad (to cover centre back and right back), though it has all gone very strangely quiet on that front. Geoff Cameron has been suggested as a domestic-based alternative who could do the same job.

There appears top be a degree of willingness between the clubs for a Diakite and Marcos Alonso swap deal, which would be very neat and tidy. Regardless of whether that happens, you fancy Diakite will be off and Roberge won't be far behind him. Swansea City captain Ashley Williams is reported to be the club's top central defensive summer target.

So we'll likely be left needing *deep intake of breath* a right back/centre back, a specialised centre back, and two left backs. That means that, of the seven defenders Poyet says he wants for next season, five will likely be new additions.

Midfielders

We have: Sebastian Larsson, Lee Cattermole, Liam Bridcutt, Jordi Gomez, Emanule Giaccherini, Adam Johnson, Charis Mavrias, Alfred N'Diaye, El-Hadji Ba, Duncan Watmore, Cabral.

I think that there is a solid look about the Sunderland midfield. Players like Cattermole, Larsson and Bridcutt are not likely to be completely dominated too often except when the huge clubs come along. You could also argue that Alfred N'Diaye would be a like-for-like Jack Colback replacement or even upgrade if Poyet has a u-turn and decides to keep him.

Down the flanks too, Johnson has some real quality and Giaccherini has the quality to be a big player for this squad if he can shake off his stuttering first season and discover a little rhythm early. By all accounts, Mavrias was impressing plenty at the academy towards the end of last season too.

What the midfield isn't going to do often, though, is penetrate. There are some neat and tidy footballers in the middle but very little actual class, whilst out wide there is a little craft but precious little pace. It's a midfield that will make you tough to beat rather than tough to contain.

We need: An injection of quality in the middle and pace down the sides.

I'm very much of the school of thought that in order to build a team you spend your money on a central midfielder of real quality and then build around it. I'd suggest that our dear neighbours have shown that pretty much to a tee with Yohan Cabaye.

The problem, of course, is that players of this ilk are short in availability and high in demand, and can often be out of the reach of a club like Sunderland who languish somewhat in the lower reaches of the Premier League. We could go for a player on the way down - with Fenerbahce's Raul Meireles mentioned as a target in Turkey - or look to the unproven market and pray that some South American or something can settle. Certainly, when you look at the likes of Jake Livermore costing £8m and almost double that quoted for a player like Derby County's Will Hughes, it would appear tough to find what is needed in the domestic market.

Some pace in wide areas is more easily come-by, so it's not something you'd worry about finding. However, recruiting a central midfield player of game-changing quality looks like being the most important and most difficult task for Lee Congerton this summer. It may even have proved too difficult a criteria to satisfy come September. Jordon Mutch has been persistently mentioned as a target, but it's tough to see him as anything other than just more of the same.

Forwards

We have: Connor Wickham, Steven Fletcher, Jozy Altidore, Nacho Scocco, Danny Graham

Immediately, you're tempted to knock both Scocco and Graham off that list as it looks incredibly likely both will be leaving this summer. Scocco seems desperate to go back to his comfort zone in Argentina - too desperate for comfort, certainly, to make you wonder what actual value he would be here anyway - and Danny Graham is, well, Danny Graham.

The other three are almost certainly much better than they showed for the bulk of last season, though. Fletcher and Altidore seemed to have their respective confidence obliterated early on, by injury in the former's case and by a general Jozyness in the latter's, and failed to ever really bounce back. New season, new page, though, and both are worth persisting with. Wickham's big task will be to prove that his little goal blitz at the end of last season can be the start of something, not the peak of his Sunderland career.

I think we are in better shape up front than many realise, personally.

We need: Something, apparently.

Congerton has said that he is looking for something else up front, so who am I to argue? It may well be a Fabio Borini type figure who can play as one of the wide forwards whilst also covering the main central role.

Or, even better, it could just actually be Borini. Let's just do that.

The squad as it stands

First starting with the 27 names on the first team squad list on the official site and then discounting the younger players (Watmore, Jordan Pickford, Mavrias and Ba) and the names you'd expect to see leave the club this summer (Cabral, Graham, Diakite etc) you are suddenly left with just 14 names you'd genuinely fancy to be in the squad for next season:

Goalkeepers: Mannone, Pantilimon
Defenders: O'Shea, Brown, Jones
Midfielders: Cattermole, Bridcutt, Larsson, Giaccherini, Gomez, Johnson
Forwards: Wickham, Fletcher, Altidore

To put in another way, in order for Gus Poyet to get the 23-man senior squad that he wants (assuming none of the kids or Alfred N'Diayes seriously impress in pre-season), we can probably expect nine new additions to the squad before the deadline passes.

That's already looking like quite a task. There will probably be a fair few loans again, I'd wager, but more out of necessity than anything else. Whatever happens, with the World Cup nearing its end and the Academy of Light abut to purr back into activity, I don't think we will be bored this summer.

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