Note: Over the next twenty days, we will spend a day previewing each team in the Premier League in advance of the coming season. We''ll start with the promoted teams, then move up the table, skipping Newcastle and saving them for last. We will finish on August 12, exactly one week prior to the Toon's opener with Manchester City.
Sunderland finished a disappointing 17th last season, but mackems have reason to hope that this year will be better. Noted disciplinarian Paolo Di Canio is now in charge, and he's brought in a whole host of new players and put his own stamp on the team. A high turnover rate like the one exhibited on Wearside this summer can sometimes be detrimental, but if anybody can pull it off, PDC might be that guy.
In order to properly preview Sunderland's season, I sat down with Simon Walsh, the manager of SBN's own Roker Report.
Coming Home Newcastle: Paolo Di Canio has made good on his promise to overturn the roster, bringing in 9 and shipping out almost as many. Which new signing are you most excited about? Are you distraught about any of the departures?
Simon Walsh: I think most excited by Emanuele Giaccherini. Whilst not a first team regular at Juventus, he was part of the Italian national side and looked the part. It says something about the evolution of the club behind the scenes that we can attract a regular Italian international, and Serie A winner to the club despite finishing fourth bottom. At 28 too, he's in his prime years, and should be great for us next season. The rest of the signings seem quite solid too. I've no complaints at all.
Unless it's say O'Shea, Fletcher, Johnson or Sessegnon I wouldn't be too upset about anyone leaving. Mignolet was a bit of a wretch but he had his head turned months ago and we got top dollar for him. He'll never be worth more than what Liverpool paid in the rest of his career, so it worked out fine.
CHN: What else will Di Canio do to put his stamp on the team? Should we expect a new formation or a change in tactical philosophy?
SW: Philosophy maybe, but tactically it's likely to be 4-4-2 with strikers who can use their athleticism to their advantage. The only likely tactical change will be Di Canio seems to prefer hsi wingers to cut inside, and with Giaccherini and Johnson we're well equipped to do that.
CHN: Sunderland scored just 41 goals last season, tied for 17th in the league. Steven Fletcher, the leading goalscorer, tallied 11. Do you foresee either number going up this season?
SW: Yes, quite easily. Fletcher was also missing for a long spell and should easily get between 15-20 next season, and I wouldn't expect anything less than 10 for Altidore. Hopefully others can chip in a bit too such as Johnson, Giaccherini, Sessegnon and Co.
CHN: Do you expect that Keiren Westwood or Vito Mannone will be the starting goalkeeper for the opener against Fulham? Do you believe either are capable of filling Simon Mignolet's shoes?
SW: I think Westwood is more than capable of filling in for Mignolet. He's waited his turn and I'd expect him to take it should he be afforded the opportunity. Something in the water suggests though it might be Mannone who gets the nod given he's started two friendlies so far (at time of writing).
CHN: Given your current squad, what would your ideal Starting XI be?
SW: Well I can give you an answer, but I expect a few more signings through the door. so with the squad as it stands at time of writing, and still in much need of improvement - Westwood; Colback, Diakite, O'Shea, Gardner; Johnson, Cabral, N'Diaye, Giaccherini; Altidore, Fletcher.
At the moment Fletcher is touch-and-go for the start of the season.
CHN: What would have to happen this season for you to consider it a success?
SW: Every year I have a modest expectation for us to finish somewhere in the top ten. That would do me this year.
CHN: Where will Sunderland finish in the table?
SW: Much like the above, I usually fail on that front but it's customary for me to believe my own expectations at this stage of the season, so I'll say we will finish in the top ten.
My sincere thanks to Simon for taking the time to answer questions about Sunderland.