As we head rapidly towards the dawn of a new season talk behind the scenes here at Roker Report has been based mainly around potential new signings and how Sunderland will shape up for the new term. We have talked ourselves almost to the point of delirium about who should lead SAFC's line next year but how about who should provide them with the ammunition? Or more specifically, what role of attacking midfielder would be more suitable to Sunderland?
I sat down with Chris Weatherspoon as we put forward our arguments for wingers or inside forwards.
David Boyle: We Want Wingers
The role of a winger is one that been forced to evolve over the years as football has progressed from the rigid 4-4-2 which was the benchmark for many years into a more fluid setup which we often see today. A winger, back in the day, was expected to hug the touchline, beat the opposition fullback and put the ball into the box for the striker to latch onto. A simple and effective strategy which was turned into an art form by greats such as Sir Stanley Matthews, Garrincha and Jairzinho, before the likes of Marc Overmars, David Beckham and even Nick Summerbee continued the art into the modern day.
Sunderland fans will have great memories of attacking football that heavily utilised the wings during the early years at the Stadium of Light with Alan Johnston and Nick Summerbee serving up cross after cross after cross from the flanks which Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips greedily gobbled up. For me, when implemented correctly, attacks coming from the wings can provide some of the most entertaining football to watch.
Today we perhaps have a player on our hands who is an example of the modern-day winger, James McClean. When McClean broke onto the scene, having been unleashed from Steve Bruce's shackles by Martin O'Neill, he was a breathe of fresh air and a genuine wildcard, attacking threat. Whilst our talented young Irishman is more than capable of beating his man and fizzing a teasing ball into the area on his left footb he is also confident enough to cut inside with a direct, mazy run, often to great effect with his right.
One of the main gripes Sunderland fans held last term was the lack of attacking threat in the opposition's penalty area. Whilst I was seemingly one of a relatively small proportion of the Sunderland following that rated Nicklas Bendtner during his spell on Wearside his style of play often saw him involved in the buildup around the box rather than providing the threat inside it. This meant that more often that not there was no target for the likes of McClean and Larsson to hit from the flanks. Whilst Steven Fletcher's much discussed move to Sunderland has collapsed into something of a saga, his arrival would breathe a new lease of life into Sunderland's attacking threat given his ability in the air.
Steven Fletcher's potential, if not expected, signing is reason enough for me why O'Neill should be looking to his wingers to really step up to the plate this year and provide the ammunition for his new forward(s). In McClean, Larsson and hopefully another creative, attacking recruit we would certainly have players capable enough of doing just that and this year they should have a target to hit.
Chris Weatherspoon: Inside Forwards Are The Way (Forward)
Inside forwards are scarcely the most favoured of options by most managers. Despite the rise of such talents as Adam Johnson over recent years, most sides are still much more likely to opt for wide men who will stick to the line, crossing the ball on their favoured foot.
And yet, Martin O'Neill and Sunderland would do well to embrace a bit of variety.
James McClean was, of course, a revelation last year. However, for all his merits, there were times when - if side's doubled up on him - he became a toothless asset in attack. Sides could put two men on McClean, safe in the knowledge that his preference for sticking to the line would leave no room for an attacking full-back to offer a further wide threat.
Playing McClean at inside forward, on the right, would change this. There have already been suggestions that O'Neill will look to do this, and it is not difficult to see why. Firstly, it adds variety to McClean's own game. While not exactly a predictable player, it is clean his preference is for staying wide and driving to the byline. Lining up as an inside forward would add another skill to his game, cutting inside and driving at goal - he may weigh in with a few more goals as a result.
Furthermore, as hinted, it would allow Sunderland's full-backs greater room to get forward in wide areas. Where wingers who stay out wide leave space only inside them - areas where it is less threatening for full-backs to cross from - the use of inside forwards means full-backs have plenty of room out wide to send in crosses. With this being the case, it would also enable McClean to be in the box and get on the end of some of those crosses - he has already shown his good heading ability, and a new role for him could further enhance the results stemming from his aerial prowess.
It is not all about McClean of course. Whoever plays out wide, it is hard not to think that the use of a inside forwards would greatly increase Sunderland's goalscoring threat. With the side likely to line up with only one out and out striker, employing the two wide men to drive at goal would lighten the pressure on that striker's shoulders. This is especially important when we consider that the striker is likely to be a new arrival, a situation which will leave him with enough pressure in the first place.
Ultimately, it would be silly to completely disregard the use of wingers this season. They worked well for O'Neill last year, and there is no reason they won't again this time around. However, introducing inside forwards, and thus some variety, could see Sunderland's profligacy in front of goal come to an end.
So there you have it, that's what we think, but what attacking role do you prefer? Let us know in the convenient poll below!