Sunderland’s first-team squad’s going to get a major facelift this summer, and with a new emphasis on strategic, data-based recruitment (rather than signing your mates) it’s going to be interesting to see how this approach plays out.
The announcement of the retained list last week saw the departure of some regular first-teamers, meaning fans can now speculate on where Sunderland will have to bring in new faces.
In this article, I take a look at some of the key data and identify five players that I would like to see Sunderland sign for the forthcoming season.
What Sunderland must consider?
Below is a visual for playing time by position for playoff teams.
Sunderland's major issues here is that we had a lot of 27-30-year-olds playing in the 20/21 season, and generally that’s when players are peaking. Even if we had won promotion many players would have been let go. If you take Blackpool as an example, they achieved promotion by regenerating their squad with young faces.
Last season, especially in defence, it felt like Sunderland had a lot of injuries. We have a track record of suffering long term injuries that blighted our 20/21 campaign. It would be a requirement that we try and sign players with a good injury record if possible.
When you compare, for example, Peterborough’s defensive stability to ours, you can understand the need for a more durable defensive lineup.
So, given the need for younger players who are more durable – among other things – here are five players I think the recruitment team will be looking at this summer.
Connor Ogilive (LB/CB) | Free Agent
Ogilvie played 98% of the league matches for Gillingham last season, contributing four goals and four assists. There’s a lot to like: his stats are solid for a defender as shown below.
Denver Hume is a player I would expect to sign back on for Sunderland, however, his injury problems are a concern. Signing the 25-year-old Ogilive would provide competition and versatility, with the bonus that he is a free transfer after rejecting a new deal from Gillingham.
Liam Walsh (CM) | Free Agent
Liam Walsh is a player well known to Lee Johnson after Sunderland’s head coach signed him from Everton for Bristol City in 2018. However, after suffering a long-term injury during the 20/21 season, Walsh has been released by the current City gaffer Nigel Pearson. At 23, Walsh has his best playing days ahead of him and during the 19/20 season played a crucial role in Coventry’s promotion.
Initially, I had my doubts over Walsh but after reading reviews by Coventry fans, I looked into his data from 19/20 with Coventry and his numbers are excellent. There will be question marks over his fitness due to the injuries but providing the medical side is okay, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sunderland take a chance on him at centre midfield.
Scott Fraser (CM, AM) | MK Dons
Sunderland tried for Fraser last summer but salary cap restrictions (which are no longer here) meant we couldn't pursue him. A year on and Fraser is in high demand and Sunderland have a strong bargaining chip in the shape of Will Grigg.
Fraser dominated statistically for the Dons, scoring 14 and assisting 6 goals. MK Dons are similar to Sunderland in terms of playing style, retaining possession more often than the opponent. Fraser played roughly 50% of the season in centre midfield then 50% in an attacking midfield role and offers versatility. Sunderland need midfielders who contribute goals and assists, and Fraser can still produce solid defensive numbers.
Taylor Richards (AM) | Brighton
Man City sold Richards to Brighton in 2019 and I genuinely believe he could make it to the Premier League in the future. At 21, Richards still looks like a raw prospect, and he caught my eye when we thrashed Doncaster 4-1. His contract is up in June but I imagine Brighton will have an option to extend/renew for longer.
The stats are encouraging and he returned 10 goals and five assists for Doncaster which fits the criteria of goalscoring midfielder. His passing is weaker than Sunderland's average and Richards consistency would need to be worked, on but there is something about his raw ability which suggests he is destined for a great career.
Joe Pigott (FW) | Free Agent
Coming off a career-best season, Pigott presents a different type of striking option. Pigott has higher defensive contributions than Wyke but worse scoring stats, suggesting he would suit playing with another forward.
Comparing his numbers directly to Wyke, it would seem Pigott doesn’t have anything stronger than Wyke going forward. However, Pigott played in a much worse team than Wyke did and his numbers are still extremely strong for this division. Sunderland have a habit of missing out on forwards like this (Taylor, 2018 and Ladapo, 2019), and an added bonus is Pigott is available for free. Should we lose Wyke, Pigott would be a sensible option.