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I feel sorry for Chris Coleman; just how does he address Sunderland’s issues on a shoe-string?

It’s going to be a tough ask for Chris Coleman to fix all of our problems in this transfer window, but will he be able to assemble a squad capable of moving up the table?

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Sunderland don’t have any money to spend. What little money we make from the transfer of saleable assets like Ndong and Kone will, for the most-part, go straight to paying off debts.

There’s no point fighting this anymore. It’s just the way it is, and the way it will be until Ellis Short leaves the club. Therefore, Chris Coleman is faced with the mammoth task of solving Sunderland’s substantial on-field problems with what will likely be a tiny transfer budget.

We are in the strange and unenviable position of having no guaranteed starters in our squad. Not one player in our team is a shoe-in to start every game; this is due to both years of negligence in the transfer market and some below-par form from our more creative players, like Aiden McGeady, for instance.

This is sad enough as it is. It was only a few years ago that we had an embarrassment of riches upfront (Bent, Gyan, Welbeck), a plethora of midfield options (Henderson, Malbranque, Sessegnon), and an abundance of solid goalkeepers (Mignolet, Gordon, Fulop).

I remember the days of going into a transfer window thinking we just need to fix one, maybe two ‘problem positions’. Now, as we enter the January transfer window, every position in our starting eleven is arguably a ‘problem position’.

Sunderland v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

This got me thinking: how on earth does Coleman go about prioritising the positions he needs to fix with tuppence, ha’penny and a bag of Skittles this January? Because, as difficult as it may be in narrowing it down, he needs to pick the positions that need fixing immediately in order for us to survive in the division.

Let’s start with the obvious one - up front. We need goals to survive, that much is clear. With all signs pointing to Lewis Grabban being recalled by Bournemouth, our current top scorer is likely to leave the club in the very near future. The obvious answer is to replace him first with whatever pitiful funds Coleman is given.

But it is at this point that it starts getting tricky for Coleman. For is this really the problem position that needs addressing first? After all, in Josh Maja and to a lesser extent Joel Asoro we have two of this division’s brightest young prospects vying for a starting position in our team. And behind Grabban in the pecking order sits our ‘big money signing’ of the summer, James Vaughan.

At the heart of the matter is our change in formation. When Coleman went to five at the back early on in his tenure, he saw the defensive frailties in our squad that ultimately led to Grayson’s demise and he acted upon it. It has dramatically reduced the number of goals we’ve conceded (three clean sheets in our last five games), but it has also reduced the number of chances we’ve created at the other end (just three shots on target in the last two games).

The defensive frailties of our squad were apparent at the start of the second half against Barnsley. No sooner did Coleman switch from five at the back to four at the back than we conceded.

Sunderland v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship
Heading back to Bournemouth soon enough?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

In order to play more attacking football, does Coleman need to be more confident in his defence first? I saw first-hand the panicky way our defenders deal with substandard attacks away at Forest in the last game of 2017.

Therefore, does Coleman look to address our centre-back problem first in January to give us a stronger platform to build upon? With John O’Shea at 93 years old and still our most consistent defender, do we need to find a more robust solution to our weak core?

And if we’re truly looking to cut out the stupid goals we concede, then does Coleman look to our goalkeeper problem as something he needs to fix in January? Ruiter’s form may have dramatically improved and Steele’s gloves are – thankfully – consigned to the bench for now, but as anyone who has seen Ruiter play live will testify, he does not inspire confidence in the crowd or his own defence.

Furthermore, if we’re playing five at the back due to defensive vulnerability, then our full-backs needs to offer attacking threat too. In Jones, Matthews, Love, and to a lesser extent Oviedo we have the definition of “limited”. All of these players work hard for the cause but have not regularly shown the quality required to make a difference at this level.

Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship
Definite improvement, but long-term solution?
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images,

Then again, perhaps the problem lies where it seemingly has done for five years now - in central midfield. Darron Gibson’s renaissance in the last few weeks was as welcome as it was surprising, but his injury against Barnsley in the first half has left us without any form of creativity in midfield. We have plenty of guts and graft, but very little guile. The number of chances Sunderland create from the centre of the park is pitiful in comparison to other clubs.

Or if our strikers need more support, is it our out of form wingers that Coleman looks to replace first? With Watmore and Williams injured, the onus of creativity has fallen on McGeady and McManaman and aside from a flash of genius against Forest at the City Ground, they have both failed miserably. With players like Ben Woodburn linked, perhaps this shows that Coleman is thinking along these lines.

It is at this point that I need to clarify I am not claiming I have the answer to these questions. In fact, quite the opposite. We’ve just swept through all the positions in our failing team and there is an argument to fix each and every one of them first this transfer window.

The real point here is to highlight the almost impossible situation Coleman finds himself in. He is faced with overseeing our toughest and most important transfer window – and tasked with doing it on a shoe-string budget. I actually feel sorry for him.

We’ll learn over the course of the next four weeks which positions Coleman has identified as ‘must-fix’ and we’ll also learn what the “financial support” Short promised us back in September amounts to.

It may be that our American tycoon surprises us all and backs Coleman with transfer funds. I can only hope so for Coleman’s sake as a whole new team might be exactly what we need in order to get out of this mess.

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