Sunderland squad panning out nicely

Last time in this column I discussed how well we’d done in the transfer window and our ‘impending’ signing of Fabio Borini, which looked set to be the icing on the cake.

Sunderland squad panning out nicely

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September 11th, 2014

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So as things have since panned out, looks like I was justified in our transfer window being a good one, but way off the mark when it comes to the Italian striker. Although there’s surely some sort of joke there about ‘icing on the cake’ and Borini’s greed.

Alas we did not sign him, with him opting to see out the time between now and January battling for a place on the Liverpool bench as opposed to trying to move from folk hero on Wearside to just plain old, regular hero.

I’d rather not dwell on that point as I’ve got far too many tangents to go off on with the transfer window now shut and the season starting.

To round out our summer business though, I’m over the moon with the signing of Argentine international Ricky Alvarez from Inter Milan on loan, with a view to a permanent deal next summer.

I’ll admit to not watching a massive amount of Italian football since its Channel 4 heyday, but from all the experts in the field it seems like we’ve got ourselves quite a coup. Some naysayers have suggested his form has been patchy for the Blue & Black half of Milan, however others say this is due to him being played wide of midfield rather than in his preferred central role.

Having looked at our own needs and studied some video on Alvarez I can see him slotting into the midfield and completing a perfect triumvirate with the ball-winning leader Lee Cattermole, Jack Rodwell – the legs to cover all bases – and Alvarez the playmaker.

It’s a shame that the odd man out here is Seb Larsson though. The Swede has had a superb start to the season and will likely start for now until Alvarez finds his feet, but the change is no doubt inevitable.

With Larsson along with Jordi Gomez, Liam Bridcutt and Emmanuele Giaccherini waiting in the wings, it’s hats off to Gus Poyet for building a very strong set of options in the middle of the park.

Another Sebastian, Liverpool’s Uruguayan central defender Coates also arrived on deadline day, and should provide reasonable cover for both John O’Shea and Wes Brown. Both fine defenders and the clear first choices at the position, but highly unlikely to make it through a full season unscathed.

Perhaps the only position in which we’ve been sold short is someone wide of midfield.

Connor Wickham is currently occupying the position left by Borini, however the talented striker looks wasted in an unfavoured wide position, especially given Steven Fletcher’s continual woes in front of goal.

I still hold hope that Fletcher can turn things around. He’s clearly a decent goalscorer with the track-record to back that up, but playing as a lone front man does not suit him. The Scotsman lacks the ability to hold the ball long enough to bring others into play creatively. In trying to amend these problems he often finds himself too far from goal to make an impact.

Wickham’s pace, power and strength, along with growing up in an era of a lone front man, surely suits the role better — as we found towards the tail end of last season.

After the international break we’ll all be hoping for a front three comprised of Wickham in the central role, flanked by Adam Johnson and the impressive new boy Will Buckley.

Buckley’s arrival was sniffed at by many, seen as Gus merely signing his favourites from Brighton, ala Liam Bridcutt. He has however done very well thus far with his direct style a nightmare for defenders.

With this pacey pair on the wings and a confident Wickham through the middle, and a midfield that covers all bases, Poyet has the makings of an incredibly good team.

Of course there’s still some deficiencies (a lack of left-back cover, the wide midfielder, perhaps another striker), and we’re not likely to be challenging for Europe this season, but certainly Sunderland should see themselves firmly entrenched in the humdrum of mid-table mediocrity this season.

Performances this season have shown a great improvement from last season. Battling back for draws against West Bromwich Albion and Manchester United showed we have some fight. In seasons past we’d have lost those games comfortably.

A hiccup came against QPR at Loftus Road, but I really do see that as nothing but a hiccup. Tottenham Hotspur visit town next and will prove a stern test, but I do feel that there are a hell of a lot of reasons to be cheerful about Sunderland at the moment… and I haven’t had a chance to say that too many times in my quarter of a century following the club!

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