Premier League Preview: Sunderland

My Premier League previews continue with Sunderland now in the spotlight. After a decent season under Steve Bruce last season, with the Black Cats finishing in 13th position, the Stadium Of Light club will be looking to break into the top half of the table.

Manager Bruce has strengthened his squad somewhat with Paraguay World Cup star Christian Riveros joining from Cruz Azul. The midfielder shone in the recent World Cup, scoring the second Paraguay goal against Slovakia. Bruce has also brought in Titus Bramble who, after being mocked at the start of his career for his clumsy style of play, seems to have got his act together and now looks relatively solid at the back. The former Wigan and Newcastle player gives Sunderland a strong set of central defenders.
           
Michael Turner and Anton Ferdinand will be likely first choices for the centre of defence but Bruce also has Matthew Killgallon and Bramble, who are more than able to fill any gap. Sunderland may not be very strong at right-back, though, with Phil Bardsley still yet to prove that he is a Premier League player after coming through the ranks at Manchester United. At left-back, though, they have George McCartney who is experienced at this level and will cause no concerns for Sunderland. The fact that Craig Gordon is out for the start of the season has prompted Bruce to Simon Mignolet from Sint-Truidense for £2 million. The goalkeeper, who has made four under-21 appearances for Benlgium, will be making his first appearances in the Premier League if he is picked ahead of Sunderland youngster Trevor Carson, which could cause problems for Sunderland at the back.
In midfield, though, creativity is the key. Steed Malbranque will roam in midfield as the Frenchman prepares for another top flight season, while Andy Reid and Kieran Richardson will go down the flanks, using their speed and quality of crossing to produce chances for the strikers. Riveros is likely to play a conservative role where he will start attacks from deep. He will be a big player for Sunderland if he can adjust to the pace of the English game. It is Lee Cattermole, though, who holds it all together for Sunderland. The former Middlesbrough midfielder is a hard-tackling, determined young man and controls the midfield whilst bridging the gap between defence and attack. Cattermole will be key to Sunderland’s success this season.
One to watch next season for Sunderland is Jordan Henderson. The young midfielder made nine appearances for Coventry City, where he spent last season on loan, before picking up an injury. Henderson will be looking to gain more first team action at Sunderland this season. Henderson is predominately used on the right wing but can come inside to play in the centre of midfield. The former Sunderland youth player has a good passing range and his versatility and consistency will be of big importance to Sunderland this term.
A major part in Sunderland’s success last season was Darren Bent and his twenty-five goals. The striker will be looking to improve on last season to help the side rise up the table. Kenwyne Jones also promises goals as the big striker can use his aerial presence and sublime finishing accuracy to put away the chances for Bruce’s side in 2010/11. Northern Ireland legend David Healy is also a born finisher and should be given his chance this season, while Fraizer Campbell looks to be growing into a fine player after his move from Manchester United. The future looks bright for Sunderland.
Where will they finish?: 10th
Official top ten finish odds: 5/4 (Bet365)
Star man: Lee Cattermole
One to watch: Jordan Henderson
Main weakness: The right-back position is a weak spot and they could struggle at the back without the commanding force of Craig Gordon in goal

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