First to take the floor and bravely set themselves up for embarrassment are Luke Bowley, Gavin Henderson, and recent recruits David McColgan and Alex Stebbings. Over to you, chaps.
Preseason has gone very well, results wise, but what can we actually take from it?
David McColgan: Preseason has gone relatively well results wise and performance wise. Importantly no massive injuries occured over preseason, which is a bonus as the squad is thin enough. The most obvious part of the game which Gus and the players have improved is the defensive side. Only 2 goals conceded in 8 games is a great stat regardless of the opposition, and with Cattermole and Rodwell controlling the midfield and pace on the flanks, the early impressions are good.
Alex Stebbings: I don’t like to attach too much importance to pre-season form, it’s not a reliable gauge of how the team are going to enter the Premier League campaign and I think last season is evidence enough for that.
Luke Bowley: Very, very little. It's not that pre-season isn't important; it clearly is for fitness and getting a squad to begin to gel together. It's just any knowledge we can gain from these friendlies is very limited. Last season, in a piece similar to this one, I predicted Cabral would be our best signing, and that we'd finish 9th based on what I'd seen in that pre-season. We were all expecting a lot from Emanuel Giaccherini, but he largely proved to be a disappointment. We won't really know anything about this squad until we see them in a competitive environment.
Gavin Henderson: I know that some will scoff at this but I'm one of a few that thinks there is much more you can take from ‘meaningless' pre-season friendlies than improvement of fitness levels and attaining minutes on the clock.
The big plus in my book is that there has quite obviously been some fine tuning of Gus's philosophy done on the training ground and our possession of the ball, especially against the stronger opposition in the latter pre-season games, has been noticeably better.
Aside from that, some of the fringe players have played themselves into the manager's thoughts and rightly so. Charis Mavrias and Valentin Roberge have shown they have something to offer and we may yet see them given a part to play in our squad after looking surplus to requirements in the latter stages of last season's campaign.
We've also seen a fair bit from our younger players - perhaps more so than Gus might have initially wanted - and they've done plenty to show they have the potential to do well in the years to come at this club. Liam Agnew and Tom Robson did well in the Udinese match and it was the under 21's side that reinvigorated the games against Carlisle and Hartlepool - my hope is that it has gone some way to earn the majority of them decent loan moves to good football league clubs that can help to aid their development.
How would you rate Sunderland's transfer business so far and how does the squad to start the campaign compare to the one that finished last season?
David McColgan: The transfer business has been quite astute. Many fans including myself were a little worried over the director of football model, however after seeing so many new faces last season, it's a pleasant surprise to see Sunderland taking their time in the transfer market. All main areas of the pitch have been addressed, with pace in the full back position, a box to box midfielder and a creative technical midfielder. All thats missing right now is a quality centre back to cover for injuries and suspensions. The squad certainly looks more settled and together than it did this time last season.
Alex Stebbings: I think it’s very much a case of lesson learnt. Poyet and Congerton seem to be in agreement over the importance of signing Premier League proven players and I'm happy to go along with that. It’s low-risk in terms of getting the new signings bedded in, and it should bring an element of stability to the club. See where we are in January, then perhaps look into being more adventurous in the transfer market.
Luke Bowley: Unfinished. Jack Rodwell is a terrific signing, and overall the players signed on a free are an improvement on those that have left. However we're still lacking in a few key areas. We've been crying out for a midfielder who can actually create for years now, and we're only a couple of defensive injuries away from having to play Valentin Roberge. If we can get a player in for each of those positions, as well as Borini and another full back, then the squad is shaping up very nicely.
Gavin Henderson: I'm very happy with the signings we've made so far and think that the calibre of player that we've signed gives us a fairly clear indication of the direction that the club is aiming for this season. By taking less gambles on players from foreign countries and instead signing proven Premier League players that we know can fit into the system that we deploy we should be fairly confident that we're going to have a more settled and comfortable term this time around.
There's still room for improvement though - we're still a good handful of signings away from what we need in the long term - but I'm happy with the squad of players that we have available for the first game. In an ideal world I'd like us to have a quality left winger, another central midfielder and a top class proven centre half on board with the West Brom game in mind but we still have plenty of time left in the current window to improve the side to the standards that Gus expects. We've shown that we have money available with the Borini bid and, should that not materialise, I'm confident that we have the funds to strengthen certain positions significantly.
What are you most looking forward to this season?
David McColgan: I'm most looking forward to seeing Sunderland controlling a game in midfield and being able to put teams under sustained pressure. The midfield looks strong which will hopefully give space out wide for new full back, Patrick Van Aanholt to excite us his his over lapping runs. Goals may be an issue, but with a strong defence in place you only need one to win.
Alex Stebbings: The Gus Poyet double fist pump, and I hope to see plenty of them.
Luke Bowley: In terms of Sunderland I'm looking forward to actually owning a left back, continuing to play nice football, seeing if Connor Wickham can push on from last season, and not 'do a Le Fondre' and end his career having only actually had one good month in the top flight, and Lee Cattermole's England cap. In general, I can't wait to see what this season has in store for Richard Keys.
Gavin Henderson: I'm most looking forward to seeing what a side with a full and settled pre-season under a decent manager with an obvious playing identity can do. The likes of Steven Fletcher have had a very good pre-season and, in some cases, it's like making new signings with certain players who can only write off last season as a bad one.
It's going to be tough for the team to replicate things like reaching a cup final and beating the mags twice but what I'd like to see is us make the Stadium of Light a ‘fortress' again. It feels like a good while now since I can say that we've made the SOL a hard place for away sides to get a win and that has to be a priority for Gus because, with decent home form, we could really look forward and look towards breaking into the top ten of this league - a feat which has probably never been more difficult with the amount of quality in the mid-table sides these days, but certainly not impossible.
What will constitute success for Sunderland this season?
David McColgan: After two seasons of nerve racking relegation battles, success for Sunderland will be a mid table finish with hopes of breaking into the top half. A couple of derby wins will do nicely as well.
Alex Stebbings: Progress. I genuinely think we have a good manager in Gus Poyet and he has to be given time. He’s already beginning to bring a new identity to Sunderland and hopefully the fans can fully buy into that and be patient enough for it to wholly develop.
Luke Bowley: Not being involved in a relegation battle. A progression of the football we were playing last season with more penetration. Gus Poyet not resigning in February after weeks of cryptic messages in interviews suggesting he's not being happy with things behind the scenes. Lee Cattermole getting the England captaincy.
Gavin Henderson: We've battled relegation in six of our last seven seasons in this division and that simply isn't good enough anymore. Becoming a hard to beat side that play good football should be our aim for this term as establishing an identity for the future is as important as having a big name manager when it comes to player recruitment, as Swansea City have proven.
Who will be the Sunderland star of the season?
David McColgan: The star of the season I think will be Jack Rodwell. His centre midfield partnership with Lee Cattermole will be important, but if the Black Cats are to finish in the top 10 then I think Rodwell will be vital.
Alex Stebbings: Jordi Gomez. A player I’ve been an admirer of for many years and I'm glad he’s finally found his way to the Stadium of Light. Not the most high-profile signing, but he’s a very accomplished technical player that should thrive in Poyet’s system. His passing game is excellent and he's proven to chip in with a goal here and there.
Luke Bowley: The stand out candidates at the moment would be Rodwell or Cattermole. The latter was our best player last season, and if he and his new partner and midfield work well together it'll be the basis of any success we have A fit, sharp, hirsute Steven Fletcher will also be a real asset.
Gavin Henderson: I honestly think Jack Rodwell has come to this club with a massive point to prove and he hasn't come here just to be another face in the crowd. Let's not forget that this is a player who was once spoke about in the same breath as Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley when a youngster at Everton and, had it not been for bad injuries and poor career decisions, we'd be talking about a future England captain here - he is that well thought of.
Keep him fit and we'll see how much of a top quality footballer Jack Rodwell really is.
Who will be the Sunderland flop of the season?
David McColgan: I personally don't think there will be a flop this season (here's hoping.) However if Giaccherini can't break into the starting team consistently then I can't see him being given enough time to make a positive impact on the pitch.
Alex Stebbings: Hopefully nobody will flop. I like Vergini but he has showed signs of struggling to adapt and his first touch can be a little heavy at times, so if anybody I would say its likely to be him.
Luke Bowley: Cabral.
Gavin Henderson: Sadly I just don't see the next year going well for Jozy Altidore. He's effectively our third choice striker and he won't get any better by not playing regularly. As much as I'd like to see Jozy replicate the kind of goalscoring form here that he showed in Holland I just can't see it happening and, with the MLS season restarting in March, I have a gut feeling he'll end up back there at some point.
Where Sunderland will finish?
David McColgan: 8th
Alex Stebbings: 10th
Luke Bowley: 10th (just to annoy the f**k out of Steve Bruce)
Gavin Henderson: 11th
Premier League Champions:
Rest of the top four?
David McColgan: Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City
Alex Stebbings: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool
Luke Bowley: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal
Gavin Henderson: Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United
David McColgan: Burnley, West Bromwich Albion, Hull
Alex Stebbings: Burnley, Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion
Luke Bowley: Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Burnley
Gavin Henderson: Aston Villa, Leicester City, Burnley
Cheers to the lads for stepping up! Be sure to drop by tomorrow when Kristan Heneage, Stephen Goldsmith, Michael Graham, David Wheatley and beloved former Roker Report stalwart David Boyle give us their picks.