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Sunlun’s road to the Championship starts now - how will we fare against tough sides in Portugal?

Sunderland’s pre-season starts in earnest this weekend as the Lads travel to Portugal, and the calibre of opposition is another reason to feel grateful that we are back in the championship.

Testing times - AS Roma will give Sunderland a real challenge in Portugal
| Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

For those lucky enough to be heading to Portugal, friendly games don’t come much bigger than the two that Alex Neil and the team face in the Algarve.

In AS Roma and Rangers we face two sides that made it to European finals last year and are looking to push on having ended their seasons on a high, despite Rangers’ defeat in the Europa League.

I always love pre-season.

The games are simply an opportunity to get match fitness back into the legs, and often you can get a first look at a new signing or two. I’m still on a high from the latter part of the last campaign, and I’m more hopeful for the coming season than I have been since I thought Big Sam was set to lead us into a new Premier League campaign, before England came calling.

My view has always been that the best policy when it comes to friendlies is that they should be played against teams that are deemed to be better than we are.

If you’re going to get fit and ready for the season you need to be tested by teams that are a cut above the sides you will face in the coming campaign. It’s good to get acclimatised to playing better quality players and while you might get the run around a bit, you know that the league season will not offer similar tests.

Go Ahead Eagles v PAOK Saloniki - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Patrick Goosen/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Rangers have been quiet in the transfer window until this week, and it may well be that our game this weekend will see the arrival of Croatian striker Antonio Colak from POAK - Colak has caused some excitement in Govan having been the player the Ibrox management team identified as their number one target. While it may come too late for our game, Rangers are also heading the pack in the chase for Congolese attacking winger Theo Bongonda.

If Rangers were not enough of a challenge, we then face José Mourinho’s AS Roma. Mourinho is basking in the fact that his first full season in charge of the Giallorossi saw the club win their first European trophy and end their fourteen-year wait for silverware.

This week saw the arrival in Rome of Turkish right-back Zeki Çelik from LOSC Lille, and the news that exciting Ghana international Felix Afena-Gyanhas signed an extended contract with the club.

While the team boasts England striker Tammy Abraham who has had a new lease of life in the Eternal City, talk in the Italian media is the club has tabled a sizable bid for Real Madrid striker Isco.

AS Roma UEFA Conference League Victory Parade Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Romama via Getty Images

The result of the games are not really important, although wins in both would be a huge morale boost - rather, it is a case of getting minutes on the pitch for the squad, and a chance for Alex Neil to look at how his players fare against illustrious opposition.

My most glamourous pre-season outing with The Lads was many years ago when I headed to Hong Kong for the Barclay’s Cup where we thumped Tottenham in the pouring rain, before losing to Manchester City in the ‘final’.

I will be in Dundee on July 16th, and the fact Jack Ross is in the opposition dugout will add a little something to the occasion.

It is likely once again we may well do a hefty part of our transfer business towards the back end of the window, but some decent performances this week and then against Dundee and Hartlepool will hopefully see the side heading into our opening game against Coventry City in decent form.

With pre-season we should just enjoy the chance to see The Lads against opposition that we rarely get a chance to play against, beginning to build hope and excitement for the long season we have ahead of us - and I can’t wait to see the team back out on the pitch again!

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