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Former defender believes Sunderland will go down; discusses rebuild job & 'disturbing stat'

Phil Babb spent two years at Sunderland and played for the club in both the Premier League and the Championship, enduring a relegation in the middle of his spell on Wearside. He believes Premier League survival is most likely beyond his former side this season and has been discussing the scale of the rebuild that the club will face in the summer.

Sunderland v Norwich City Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Phil Babb knows a thing or two about relegation at Sunderland. The former defender spent two years at the club and was part of the team which finished bottom of the Premier League in the 2002-3 season with a measly 19 points.

Phil Babb of Sunderland and Robbie Keane of Tottenham Hotspur
Phill Babb up against Tottenham's Robbie Keane in 2002
Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Speaking on the Sky Sports daily podcast, the ex-Republic of Ireland international reckons Sunderland's current perilous state - seven points adrift from safety at the bottom of the table - may be too big a situation to turn around this time,

It's going to be a tough challenge for Sunderland - as it always is - but it might just be a bridge too far for them this campaign.

But Babb believes the imminent return of Sunderland's inspirational club captain coupled with the presence of a current England striker and England Under-21 goalkeeper, may still give the Black Cats a chance this season,

The likes of Cattermole returning adds a bit of a steel, the form of Jermain Defoe is key and they have a young goalkeeper in Pickford who is outstanding for them.

Sunderland v Swansea City - Premier League
Jermain Defoe and Lee Cattermole - the two outfield players on which the hopes of Sunderland fans rest once again as the relegation battle enters its final furlong
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The former Liverpool man should also understand what's required for Sunderland to bounce back if they are relegated. Babb was part of the 2003-4 squad which missed out on an immediate return to the Premier League when Mick McCarthy's side lost on penalties in a play-off semi-final. On the task faced this summer by his former club - which looks increasingly likely to find itself in the second tier next season - Babb said,

It will take a big rebuilding job for David Moyes because he will have to decimate the squad for more Championship-like players. It will hurt them.

The financial side of it is going to hurt them, but unfortunately for Sunderland they have been a yo-yo club for the past five or six years - longer.

Sunderland v Burnley - Premier League
All indicators suggest David Moyes will lead Sunderland through a summer rebuild ahead of a season in the Championship
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Phil Babb retired after being released at the end of his second campaign on Wearside. He made 60 appearances for Sunderland and was often much maligned during his spell, but he did win supporters over during the final months of his career.

And Babb highlighted a stark stat from last weekend's encounter with Burnley as indicative of the problems within David Moyes' squad,

I was reading a stat that Pickford had more touches than any of the outfield players - which is slightly disturbing from a manager's point of view.

Even more disturbing - that stat is true. Jordan Pickford had 58 touches of the ball last Saturday against Sean Dyche's side, 6 more than the closest Sunderland player - John O'Shea - who had the ball 52 times with Bryan Oviedo next at 51 touches.

Sunderland v Manchester City - Premier League
Jordan Pickford had more touches than anyone else in a Sunderland shirt last weekend
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

And that's considerably more than the Black Cat's supposed ball-winning and ball-retaining players such as Darron Gibson (49 touches), Adnan Januzaj (43), Sebastian Larsson and Jack Rodwell (40 each).

Fabio Borini touched the ball a measly 24 times and Jermain Defoe only saw it 11 times - no wonder Sunderland didn't score.