Earlier this week I penned a piece talking about the fact that there’s always a sense of excitement as the new season approaches. And while that sentiment certainly still holds true, it is worth noting that things aren’t perfect on the playing side of things.
While the club have a core group of decent football players for this level, perhaps the biggest issue facing Sunderland right now is the threadbare squad available to Phil Parkinson - especially if he hopes to play with his last season’s favoured formation that utilised three central defenders.
As such, while the familiar excitement of a proposed new season holds true, a sobering realism irks in the back of my brain whispering that even though Sunderland have a solid core of players, they must strengthen in order to truly challenge for promotion at the third time of asking.
Last week on the club’s official podcast, Phil Parkinson noted that:
A bonus for us as a staff this week is that Jack Diamond has come in and looked really good. Elliot Embleton has trained and each day has looked better and better. Those two are kind of bonus players for us as well.
So I’m not saying we’re looking for ten players. Ideally we’d like to bring in another five and if we do that, we’ll then have cover in all areas.
Parkinson is right, Sunderland really could use some extra additions ahead of what will be a gruelling season. The nucleus of Sunderland’s side is a decent one, but there is certainly room for some improvement.
The table below highlights Sunderland’s need for reinforcements - specifically in defence and attack.
A majority of League One sides voted in favour of implementing a salary cap at League One level, and this is likely a large reason as to why Sunderland haven’t brought in much-needed additions as sides reassess their budgetary allowances and explore other options.
It’s likely why the Luke Garbutt deal has seemingly hit a snag: can Sunderland afford big wages for a 27-year-old left back? Or would that money now be better spent elsewhere - especially if they can bring in someone younger, on less in terms of wages, and with a better chance of turning a profit on in years to come?
Five players is the goal, and the easiest spot to fill will be a backup goalkeeper. Remi Matthews has been touted as an option for the Lads, and he would be a decent, likely inexpensive option. Defensively, Sunderland have been linked with giant Kosovan centre-back Arbenit Xhemajli, and his cryptic photo outside Newacstle airport on Tuesday did little to assuage talks of a potential move to Wearside. Demetri Mitchell impressed on loan, but he’s also now drawing attention from the Championship.
Central midfield looks well-stocked, but Sunderland desperately need some pace in their attack. Few players have been linked, and Sunderland may well look to the loan market to bring in some exciting talent to bolster their options.
This season might also be the best opportunity in quite some time for Sunderland’s young prospects to stake a claim for a spot in Phil Parkinson’s plans - especially if squad limitations don’t apply to U23 players.
Two games have apparently taken place behind closed doors already as the Lads amp up their preparations for the new season, and as already noted, Parkinson has singled out Embleton and Diamond for praise.
Brandon Taylor and Bobbie Beaumont might also find a chance to impress if Sunderland struggle to add central defenders to their squad, while Cieran Dunne and Vinnie Smalls will also be looking to catch Parkinson’s eye during the final few weeks of pre-season as the club lacks any kind of depth in the wide attacking positions.
Ultimately, aside from central midfield, Sunderland could genuinely do with additions to their team in order to provide depth, quality, and competition for places.
The 2020-21 season will be a difficult one to contend with due to Covid-19 restrictions, salary caps, and squad limitations, but with such a small squad, Phil Parkinson’s task might be just that little more difficult.