English Premier League Midseason Report: Sunderland

| by World Soccer Reader

30 (7-5-9)
Preseason Prediction: 10th
Accuracy: Not real close
Preseason overview :
To be honest, your guess is probably as good as mine. If Darren Bent returns to his torrid form, gets himself a little help, and a mistake-free defense (and goalkeeper), Sunderland is really a legitimate threat to just about everyone. But success in the league comes through consistency, and that is something that has been in short order with the Black Cats since their return to the Premiership three seasons ago. So, while my duty here is to give you a preview as to how well Sunderland will do in the Premiership, I really have no idea.

I don’t think Steve Bruce does, either.

Overview now:
Well, the defense has been much better, the league is a little softer, and Sunderland – by their low standards – has been remarkably consistent, losing only once at the Stadium of Light, and beating most of the teams they’re supposed to beat. Bent has kept producing (8 goals), and even though they let Kenwyne Jones go, Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan (whose signing was a giant coup for Sunderland) have added 6 each.
Simon Mignolet and Craig Gordon have shard goalkeeping duties, but both have been consistent, with Gordon the hot hand of late. Bruce seems to have set on a rotation, and a spot in Europe appears somewhat likely, to be honest. But this is Sunderland after all, and there’s a long way to go.

Preseason best new signing:
Ahmed Al-Muhammadi – The Egyptian – trying to spell his name consistently aside – has been a very good signing, among the best right backs in the league going forward. Although he’s yet to score in 20 appearances in the league, he’s been solid at both ends of the field, and has the athleticism to keep up with some of the best players in the EPL. He’s not the best one-on-one defender in the world, but he’s not the worst, and puts in a pretty good shift every time out.

Preseason key player:
Lee Cattermole – After his second red card early in the season (sigh), Cattermole has calmed down a little. Unfortunately for him, he now had a reputation that precedes him, and that makes his job even more difficult. But if he can be a good boy for a couple of months, he’s a player that Sunderland could definitely use to be a ball-winner and feed their emerging talent up top.

Key player now:
Nedum Onuoha – Like Welbeck (Manchester United), Onuoha came over on loan from Manchester City, and he instantly solidified the previously shaky center of their defense. Onuoha has gained confidence as he was put in the lineup every game, and is the top reason the Black Cats have allowed only 22 goals this season. He has recently been injured, and if he’s out for a long period of time, that could turn out to be a big blow for Sunderland.

Inside the numbers:
1 – Number of away wins for Sunderland this season, one thing that will probably have to improve if they want to play in the Europa League next season. But they appear to be close on that front, too, although – again – it is Sunderland, who sometimes seem like it’s their birthright not to win away from home.

Outlook: This is a good soccer team right now. I didn’t even get to touch on Jordan Henderson, or a couple of other players who have helped. Other than the top 5 teams in the table, they probably have the most talent and right now – gulp – the most consistency. Can they mess it up?

Read the rest of Ray Curren’s team-by-team midseason review series here.