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Grading The Depth Of Each Position In Sunderland's Squad

Two new strikers, but how's our strength in depth looking? We dish out some grades now the transfer window has slammed shut.
Two new strikers, but how's our strength in depth looking? We dish out some grades now the transfer window has slammed shut.

The transfer window has slammed shut, allowing little-to-no wiggle room to add any further reinforcements to the squad barring a select bunch of free agents. Even that depends on who Martin O'Neill names in the 25-man squad.

And with the closing of the window, our squad is now set through to January. This is what we've got to work with whether we like it or not.

So since things are pretty much said and done - we don't expect any free agent movement - we thought we'd take a look at each position and see how well stocked we are for the forthcoming season, and apply a grade to each position.

Every role from the stable of goalkeepers to our roster of strikers gets a grade, so here's how we'd grade each of the positions...

Goalkeepers: B-

Simon Mignolet has a fairly strong grip on the number one position, but should there ever be a faltering Keiren Westwood is far from a poor back up, and could indeed walk into several top Championship and lower Premier League sides.

It's a very good position for us to be in, and possibly one of the strongest at the club given that we've an international starting keeper backing up another one.

Jordan Pickford finally takes a well deserved spot as the third choice 'keeper, and the youngster is tipped for big things as well as being a regular at England youth levels. Look for him to become the second choice in a couple of years time, mounting a challenge to the number one.

The only downside of the group here might be the youth. Mignolet is still young, but I'm a believer in the Belgian and think he'll only go on to become even better.

We've enough here to survive an injury to any of them, which is great, but at the same time it's a developmental group and that's the only thing stopping me awarding the highest mark.

Right Backs: B-

The remains pretty much a two horse race. Many expected John O'Shea or Carlos Cuellar to be used in the role - and they still could at a push - but with the injury to Phil Bardsley in the preseason the job seems to be Craig Gardner's to lose at this point.

Gardner intrigued us last season when he filled in during an emergency and he did remarkably well. It's also not a role he's unaccustomed to, despite the fact he'd have you believe his best position is in central midfield. Gardner caught the eye against Arsenal and was solid enough against Morecambe too.

Phil Bardsley will certainly be attempting to stake a claim for the job, but he should be sweating a little with Gardner's form. People think there's a lot of Bardlsey-Bashing going on on these pages but that's not the case, so we'll once again reiterate it. Bardsley is solid enough, just not as amazing as some quarters would have you believe. He's ok, he's alright... he's FINE. It's just that Gardner seems to offer a better range of passing and more threat on his forays forward, as well as being perfectly solid defensively.

Behind those two things remain strong. As said, in a real pinch O'Shea or Cuellar could fill the void while the wildcards are either Wes Brown who's also played there before and young Louis Laing. Not a natural position for any of the four, and Brown can't be relied upon too much anyway. Laing we expect to move out on another loan deal, while the preseason David Meyler experiment seems to have ended.

Left Backs: D+

We were relatively weak before Kieran Richardson left, and it seems that despite the signing of Danny Rose we're still a little light.

We know that Jack Colback can fill the role perfectly well, but it distracts greatly from the fact he's one of our better central midfielders.

Danny Rose is much like Kieran Richardson in that he's a converted midfielder. we haven't yet seen enough to make a full judgement on the lad, but hopefully he can step things up and fill in for Richardson.

Alternatively there's the option to misplace Phil Bardsley - a plan I detest unless the opposition winger is the type to cut inside. Don't get me wrong, he's a trier, but he's much MUCH better on the right hand side of defence. It should be there or nothing for him.

Behind that we're short of options. Blair Adams is still young and relatively unproven, and is likely to be loaned out once again. The situation in this position could well be one Martin O'Neill looks at again in January.

Central Defenders: A

Another area where we are very well stocked. John O'Shea we know will bring a high-level of play in the middle and Carlos Cuellar has been a pleasant surprise in the middle alongside him. The Spaniard looks good in the air, keeps things simple and reads the game superbly - a cut above anyone else we have.

That's not to diminish those behind the pair though. Wes Brown - when fit - is an excellent defender, and not only could start here but could start at several other teams in the Premier League. That said, "when fit" is a huge caveat.

Matt Kilgallon is perfectly able to do a job for a week or two if we have a bit of a crisis, but it looks (worryingly so) that Titus Bramble is ahead of him. Bramble I just can't get on board with, and that's away from his off the field problems. He looked awful in the preseason, and is just about the only bad mark on a good bunch.

The exciting youngsters such as Louis Laing (in his natural position) and John Egan would both be ahead of Bramble in my book, but as things stand it looks like both will be away on loan.

Central Midfielders: B+

Obviously Lee Cattermole is the key man here, and our captain is our leader in the position. Jack Colback sits firmly behind him as the number two and should be his regular partner in the middle once Danny Rose get's established into the left back position.

Away from that, where do we stand though? Seb Larsson has filled in recently and not particularly impressed, David Vaughan is injured and how he comes back is anyone's guess.

A pleasant surprise however has been the form of David Meyler. We've not seen a vast amount of action from him, but he's surprised me. I was more than happy to ship him out of the club but his composure on the ball, willingness to run and competency in the pass has been a positive.

There's also the option that Craig Gardner moves back into his favoured position, even if it isn't his best one. It's fair to say we've got a number of options in the position.

Attacking Midfielders: A-

Certainly this is the area where we have the greatest quality of players. Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson are on the cusp of top four quality while James McClean could easily get there in a year or two. Possibly even by the end of this season, so we're very well blessed across our attacking trio.

However, what if (I dare not say 'when' at this stage) one or two of them go down with injury or suspension? Things begin to look a little weaker. Seb Larsson would be an obvious candidate to be pushed further up the field, or Fraizer Campbell further back form his favoured striking position. Either way, it's not the best of solutions with neither player being overly competent in the role.

The wild card options remain to drop Ji Dong-Won further back. His link up play is one of the best aspects of his game, so while it's a left-field choice, it's not impossible. We've waited a while for Billy Knott to make a breakthrough but you'd think it's looking unlikely this season at this stage.

Obviously the most likely outcome is a change from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-1-1. You can't knock the starting triumvirate at all which is why it gets a high mark, but there's certainly cause to worry a little.

Strikers: B

Steven Fletcher has already looked every inch a class act after a solid debut against Morecambe and a brace on his league debut away at Swansea City. There's little to no doubt he'll be leading the line for the foreseeable future on his own.

Away from Fletcher though what do we have? Louis Saha will prove to be an able fill in, and predominantly a substitute when the English-born Scotsman is fit, but could he do it on his own in a full time capacity? He certainly needs to get a little fitter first, but on the plus side he does have a vast experience of leading the line on his own.

Connor Wickham had a decent preseason but has been missing recently for one reason or another. Fraizer Campbell, as likeable a person as he is, isn't really the answer and Ji doesn't look quite ready to lead the line on his own. Ryan Noble? Likely to move to Hartlepool United on loan again in the near future.

If something horrendous happens to Fletcher, we've got Saha, but it's not a huge upgrade on the problems we had last season.

If something happens to both, and we hope not, it's back to being the Stephane Sessegnon show alone up front. As with if something happened in midfield, this would once again require a change in formation though.

Overall the strikers get a B though. There's quality in the front line of attack, but behind them there's going to have to be a lot of hope that potential is fulfilled.


How would you grade the squad's strength in depth? Why not leave a comment or hit us up on Twitter @RokerReport where we spend far, far too much time.

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