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The THREE big talking points coming away from Sunderland’s draw with Benfica B in Portugal

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Lee Burge isn’t just here to make up the numbers - nor is Benji Kimpioka... who could be the secret weapon of Jack Ross, who is balancing all of this whilst trialing a new formation that clearly needs work.

Sunderland AFC

Burge Impressive Again

Whilst he we brought to Sunderland to provide back up to last season’s top performer Jon McLaughlin, it has been clear to see from both of our pre-season games so far this summer that Lee Burge is more than capable of giving our regular number one a proper battle for his position in the side next season.

Put aside any preconceptions you have of this lad based on what you’ve heard from fans of other clubs - he’s came here for a fresh start and clearly values making a good first impression. It’d be fair to say that he’s done just that, and that he hasn’t just came to our club to make up the numbers.

Burge made a number of great stops in both halves from decent Benfica chances which kept the scores level, and he certainly seemed to enjoy the occasion as he flew around his box, commanded his area and even distributed the ball effectively - something we were told before he signed was a slight weakness of his.

The ex-Coventry City number one took to Twitter after the game to express his delight at completing a full ninety minutes as a Sunderland player, and the follow up comments from supporters certainly indicate that he’s left a good impression on those who watched with his performance.


More Youngsters Shine

Yet again it was the Sunderland youngsters who stood out from the pool of outfielders who took to the field in Albufeira, with a handful of them making a positive impression in the time they had to do so in front of the fans watching both at home and in the stands.

Ruben Sammut and Elliot Embleton both came on and made a good impression, indicating that they could be set for pivotal first team roles as part of Jack Ross’s squad going forward.

Benji Kimpioka, however, was by far the most lively of the Sunderland attackers. Whilst he wasn’t able to score or create a goal, his infectious energy and drive with the ball at his feet gave the Benfica defenders an uncomfortable experience for as long as he was on the pitch - something that also made him stand out in the game at South Shields.

Whilst many fans have high hopes for the Sweden U21 international forward, I’m not entirely sure many are or were expecting him to take up a vital role in Jack Ross’s squad this coming season. Yet, should we take anything from these last two pre-season games it should be that perhaps Kimpioka is ready to burst onto the scene.

He’s by no means the complete package but he does possess a set of skills that nobody else in our squad does, and that makes him an interesting proposition.

Should Jack Ross feel prepared to get behind this lad and work on the weaknesses in his game, we could have a really destructive attacker on our hands who can provide this squad with something entirely different when we are up against rugged and organised League One defences this coming season.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Different formation - same creative issues

It’s great to see that Jack Ross has taken a different direction tactically. Nobody can deny that this side had issues creatively last season, despite our apparent ability to score at least once in almost every game across the entirety of our League One campaign.

Sunderland’s issues defensively last season were a real cause for concern, as was our inability to dominate in midfield and get the best from our strikers. This change in approach definitely seeks to address those problems, even though we might still be missing new players who have the tools which can make the most from playing in this way.

We finished the game goalless, and this was despite the fact we started with our two big-money strikers up front - both of whom squandered decent chances to put Sunderland ahead.

Yet, those chances aside, we didn’t create a great deal. We were largely restricted to efforts from range and chances forced by corners, and that’s something to think on and look to improve when we face Belenenses on Saturday night.

This new formation is definitely the right way to play going forward, but it clearly needs work. We have two games left in pre-season, both against strong opposition, and working out how to get the most from the players that we’ve got is essential ahead of the League One opener against Oxford in just over two weeks at the Stadium of Light.