As it stands
The expiration of the contracts of Adam Matthews and Robbin Ruiter along with the return of Jimmy Dunne, Lewis Morgan and Kaz Sterling to their parent clubs mean that at least three players must come in for Sunderland to have a squad that is big enough to play over 46 games next term - and this is before we start to consider adding any quality.
A reserve goalkeeper, a right back and a centre back should be at the top of Sunderland’s shopping list, especially when looking at free agents.
Slightly lower down on Sunderland’s shopping list will be players that depend on what happens in term of outgoings. Bryan Oviedo seems likely to leave which means another left back would be required to support Denver Hume. Lee Cattermole could also leave the club, and I’d prefer him to replaced by a new attacking midfielder - since O’Nien and Honeyman can both operate in this deeper role.
Finally, and perhaps most concerning is the fact that young prospect Elliot Embleton still hasn’t signed a new contract - he would also have to be replaced.
The Must Buys
This should be the easiest position for Sunderland to recruit this summer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was already a deal in place ready to be announced on the 1st July, when out-of-contract players official become free agents.
The main requirement for this position is someone who doesn’t mind spend the season playing back-up to Jon McLaughlin and some experience and leadership are always useful qualities in a back-up ‘keeper. Think Rob Green to Chelsea.
Options: Dimi Konstantopoulos (Middlesbrough, free), David Marshall (Hull City, free), Jakob Haugaard (Stoke City, free).
Right back was one of Sunderland’s stronger positions last season, as both Adam Matthews and Luke O’Nien both put in good performances.
However, Matthews has since departed and O’Nien will be keen to return to the midfield, so Sunderland need a first choice right back to play ahead of injury prone cult hero Don Love.
Unfortunately, this position may be challenging to fill. Since Sunderland should look to play on the front foot, we’re after someone who is good going forward, with pace on the overlap without leaving us weak in defence.
These players don’t appear too often in the lower leagues, so I wouldn’t mind if Sunderland paid a small fee, brought someone in on loan, or looked abroad.
Options: Dujon Sterling (Chelsea, loan), Cristian Gamboa (Celtic, free).
Centre back was a constant weakness throughout last season for Jack Ross’ side, although a lack of physicality was solved to a certain degree by Alim Ozturk’s introduction, this was too little too late.
Therefore, one of the main targets for the summer transfer window should be an upgrade on Ozturk, with perhaps a little more pace. In short, Sunderland need a league one Younes Kaboul, pace, power, strength and aggression - easier said than done, I’ll admit.
Centre back is a position which Sunderland should be able to acquire from the free agent market, although we saw last season how hit and miss that strategy can be, so paying a fee for a rival team’s best defender may be a safer option.
Options: Ryan Tafazolli (Peterborough, free), Efe Ambrose (Derby, free), Curtis Tilt (Blackpool), Ross Sykes (Accrington), Sean Raggett (Norwich).
The ‘Might Buys’
If anything Sunderland were overstocked at left back last season, however with Reece James already signed for Doncaster and Bryan Oviedo’s likely to leave, first choice Denver Hume is currently without a deputy.
Since Hume remains inexperienced, it is vital that whoever Sunderland get in as back up has the experience to help the youngster to develop following his debut season.
Of course this experience shouldn’t come at the expense of ability, and a left back who can still offer a threat going forward would be preferred although it is most likely we see a free agent come in since they would merely act as cover.
Options: Marcus Olsson (Derby, free), Danny Lafferty (Sheffield Utd, free).
This is a position I think Sunderland definitely need to find a way of improving from last year. George Honeyman was uninspiring last season, and even his best form came in a deeper role.
Although Sunderland have six attacking midfielders for three positions, there is a lack of quality from this group of players. For that reason even if Lee Cattermole departs and Elliot Embleton signs his new contract I would prioritise a new attacking midfielder over an athletic centre midfielder.
This player is likely to be Sunderland’s marquee signing, and for that reason I would like to see us be ambitious in our targets and recruit a talisman who can play both on the wing and in the number ten role - something which is extremely useful since Jack Ross asks his wingers to play in these ‘half-spaces’.
If Embleton leaves this player should probably be a left-footer to give some balance to Sunderland’s squad - although this should not be prioritised over the need for someone who can both score and create goals from the attacking midfield position.
Options: Marcus Maddison (Peterborough), Ashley Hunter (Fleetwood), Tarique Fosu (Charlton), Ryan Colclough (Scunthorpe).
For all the talk of a new striker - with John Marquis being the name most frequently mentioned - I personally don’t see the point in spending money on a third choice striker. Put it this way, if you were asked this time last year who your dream pairing in league one would be I wouldn’t be surprised to hear many say Grigg and Wyke.
Centre Midfield is also a problem position, but more due to lack of energy than technical ability - Luke O’Nien and George Honeyman both bring bundles of energy to the team, so I would prioritise the signing of an attacking player to allow them to play deeper.