An Athletic, Dominant Centre Back
I’ve got to be fair to Sunderland’s defenders - recently we’ve been loads better, we’ve kept more clean sheets and we look settled at the back.
That said... I dunno, I still can’t shake that feeling of nervousness when it comes to our backline, and I’m half expecting things to revert to normal soon.
For most of this season we’ve been battered by big, physical strikers and that’s simply because the defenders that we do have aren’t really big and physical. We should always be looking at ways to improve, and for me, we still need to bring a central defender into the club who can cope with the physical side of the game as well as the technical side.
As the season kicks on, we will come up against strikers who can expose our lack of physicality and height at the back, and we need to find a way to counteract it, because if we fail to do so those goals we concede and points we drop may be the difference between a top-two finish and having to fight our way through the play-offs.
This is a young side too, so I wouldn’t be against signing someone a little bit older and wiser who has played at a higher level for most of their career.
Physical Central Midfielder
I feel like a broken record here by mentioning it, but Sunderland need a physical, dominant central midfielder as much as we need one in defence. To be honest, I think we’ve needed a player like this in the middle of the park for years - we’ve not had one since we dropped into League One which blows my mind as it’s a physical league, so you’d think you’d have at least one player with those credentials in your squad, but we don’t.
Would Yann M’Vila drop to League One? Of course he bloody wouldn’t (don’t be daft!), but it’s that sort of midfielder that we lack currently - someone who can go from box to box but can also get on the ball and hold the centre of the pitch, helping us to dominate games.
Dan Neil and Alex Pritchard are technically brilliant, but we’ve seen in recent weeks how much they’ve benefitted from having Corry Evans alongside them in the side - he’s very much a midfield anchor, and is a good player with lots of higher-level experience.
Problem is, he’s not durable enough and it’s a matter of time before he breaks down again with injury. We need someone big and athletic that we can rely on to stay fit, AND that will improve our quality and tenacity in midfield - I’m not asking for much!
Another Attacking Midfielder
When I heard Patrick Roberts was a top target for the club this January, my eyes lit up - he is EXACTLY the type of attacking player that we should be recruiting.
He’s technically very good, has great close control and dribbling skills, likes to take players on, can play one-twos and passes around the corner, and he can score goals - he’d fit perfectly into this current Sunderland team alongside the likes of Alex Pritchard, Elliot Embleton and Dan Neil, who are all players with similar attributes.
Roberts can play right across the forward line but is probably best coming in off the left, and with Aiden McGeady nearing the end of his time at the club, his signing could help ease that transition whilst also giving us a significant edge over the other teams competing at the top of the table.
There are issues though, and there’s a reason this signing seems a little bit too good to be true - one, he’s got lots of experience at a higher level; two, he plays for Manchester City and is on Premier League wages; and three... he’s still young, and as such he’s going to be the subject of interest from teams at a higher level.
If we don’t manage to get Roberts in I’d be cool with it, as long as we have other targets in mind with similar skill sets that can really bolster our creative options.
A Centre Forward (Or Two!)
Ross Stewart is our most important player, and our top scorer. If he breaks down - especially given Broadhead won’t be fit until at least March - we would be absolutely screwed. Therefore, signing a centre forward has to be our priority in this window.
There have been media links in recent days to both Josh Maja and Jermain Defoe, and whilst that could just be ‘pie in the sky’ stuff, it’s that calibre of forward that we need to try and net - someone who you can guarantee will get you important goals.
You could argue that we actually need two forwards. Aiden O’Brien really needs to leave, but we can’t let that happen until we sign someone else, and the aforementioned injury to Broadhead means we could end up needing someone else regardless, particularly if he has a setback or struggles to get fit in time for a return to action.
We need at least one, though, and this is the most important piece of business that we’ll do in January. Get it right, and I reckon it’ll be the difference between winning the league and finishing outside the top two.