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What issues will Michael Beale need to address regarding the evolution of Sunderland's squad?

With certain players returning from injury, the January transfer window looming and the form of youth prospects, how could all these factors affect how the squad looks in the next couple of months?

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Injured players returning

In true Sunderland fashion, we’ve had multiple players out injured this season.

We are yet to see Pembele don the red and white shirt, but with a significant initial outlay to secure his services permanently, it would suggest he would be challenging immediately for a starting spot in our team.

The news of Alese back in training will be a boost to our squad and his presence will ultimately help strengthen us defensively. The fact he can play at full-back and centre-back means he will be challenging in either position, once fully fit.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland : Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Another player heading back to full fitness is Matete. I was hoping that he would push on this season and he was desperately unlucky to get injured when he did.

Ironically, had he stayed fit, I think he would have had a free run to get games for us considering how light we are in the center of midfield and he could have been a useful addition to our squad. When back to full fitness, he may well be able to push for a place if we were unable to strengthen in midfield in January.

Whatever happens, it will be fascinating to see how the fight for places shapes up and who comes out on top, especially in a full-back position where we have, when fit, Cirkin, Hume, Huggins, Pembele, and Alese for just two positions.

In general, the state of the squad is in a strong position. We are light in central midfield and we have the issue of our strikers not scoring. I, unlike many others, am not so worried about the latter, as I think that our tactics under Mowbray didn’t lend themselves towards a striker succeeding and I have been impressed with Mayenda and Rusyn recently.

Sufficiently so that I feel both will start to contribute to the team in time and when a new head coach takes the reins this may also bolster their chances of becoming effective strikers for our squad with new tactics deployed.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ben Roberts Photo/Getty Images

January’s incomings and outgoings

January’s comings and goings will provide many of the answers for how the squad shapes are up for the second half of the season. We may well see significant bids for Clarke and Ballard come in from Premier League clubs, plus the likes of Pritchard, who by all accounts was due to leave in the summer, may well be shown the door despite his excellent form for us recently.

Recently, there have been reports that Premier League clubs are also admirers of Pierre Ekwah. The validity of these reports remains suspect, but it may be that we do see some approaches for the likes of Ekwah over the January window that may test our resolve as a club.

Loans for the likes of Bennette and Hemir may well be in the offing in an effort for them to gain vital experience within English football. There is a potential that the loan will be terminated to free up space in the squad to cover other positions that may need strengthening.

January is going to be an interesting month and I can’t foresee the club willing to let many go, but if other clubs make ridiculous offers it may be worth our while to part ways and reinvest the money received.

Sunderland v RCD Mallorca - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Martin Swinney/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images,

Can our youth step up?

Recently our youth system demonstrated its potential in the FA Youth Cup by fielding four youngsters who have the chance to develop over the next few years at the club. Rigg is the obvious name that could push for some competitive appearances within the first team. His ability is obvious and he can add something to our squad based on what we’ve seen.

He would have had assurances from the club that game time would be given as the season progresses for him to stay with the club long-term and my guess is we will see more of Rigg over the coming months.

Tom Watson, has been shining in recent games for the youth team and some appearances in the new year for the first team would not be a surprise. It was mentioned that his performances were likened to that of Clarke and this bodes well.

There have already been reports, again the legitimacy of these are questionable, that Brighton have set their sights on acquiring his services. It seems he is set to have a bright future and we can only hope he stays and starts his journey into professional football with us.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - FA Youth Cup Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Young and Ogunsuyi have burgeoning reputations and although first-team appearances may be limited to cup games or sub appearances for both, with our focus on youth, it would not be a surprise to see these names more often in and around training and matchday squads. If any of these youngsters show signs of rapid development this may alter the club’s thoughts on incomings.

Our team in its current state, and throughout all the levels, is strong. Changes will be coming. A new head coach, transfers, individuals returning from injury, and youth prospects will all play a role in this change but for once, it’s comforting to think about such issues knowing that the players we have invested in genuinely want to be here and are prepared to fight. But buckle up, we are in for quite the ride over the next few months with regards to the changes that await for the squad.

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