Having watched his side wilt in the opening games of the Premier League season Dick Advocaat succinctly summarised one of our most significant and lingering on field issues. Following Sunderland's recent 2-2 draw against Aston Villa Advocaat said:
"We still have to get games under control and I have to discuss with the players how we do that."
This is of course glaringly obvious to those who have watched the Black Cats over recent seasons. An alarming 10 goals have been conceded in the first four Premier League games of this campaign alone. Therefore if the difficulty is grasping games despite the old guard being ever present then surely they are part of the problem, right? Those who have been the better performers have escaped much of the criticism due to the often-inferior displays of those around them.
However for the first time in a long while Sunderland may just be bringing in the personnel to be able to improve - square pegs in square holes for Advocaat's preferred 4-3-3 formation.
Because of this our veterans are no longer guaranteed their place in the side. Fan favourite Lee Cattermole is a prime example and could well find himself starting games on the bench due to his poor form. This, allied with the impressive displays of new boy Yaan M'Vila and a ready-made replacement with incredible technique is waiting to take his place.
In fact, perhaps it is because of this competition that Cattermole is struggling. Cattermole has never had any rivalry of note for that midfield enforcer role since Lorik Cana left Wearside in 2010. Is his form a reflection of this? Is Cattermole trying too hard to impress in order to sustain a run in the side? Whilst his passion and grit cannot be in question he looks lost when not sitting deep. At his best he breaks up play and keeps the ball ticking over. At his worst he chases players around the pitch aimlessly without pace resulting in bookings and sending offs. We're certainly seeing more of the latter at the moment.
Another Stadium of Light favourite Seb Larsson may also find his place at risk. Ola Toivonen and Jeremain Lens have been brought into the squad this summer with the former making an affective cameo against Aston Villa. Jack Rodwell has also had a few solid performances so far this season. For the first time in years it's possible that the midfield engine could now run effectively without stalwarts Cattermole and Larsson.
Advocaat seems to be suggesting that he requires a further two players before the transfer window closes. A striker and a defender apparently remain on his shopping list. Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham could also find themselves looking over their shoulder at who might be next through the door. Liverpool's Fabio Borini and Dortmund target man Adrian Ramos have been two names linked. Both would noticeably strengthen the squad and would no doubt start games should either sign.
With Wes Brown reduced to a bit-part role this season John O'Shea is one of the few faithful remaining. However we can't ignore that Younes Kaboul and Coates were preferred over him for the first few games this season. Should another centre back find themselves at the club before the end of the transfer window or in January then maybe even our captain will be reduced to a squad player.
While the clock ticks down on the summer transfer window Dick Advocaat and Lee Congerton are quietly injecting a dash of quality and experience to the squad. Perhaps they both feel it's time the next generation usurped the old guard.