We start off this week’s preview with a glance at how Sunderland and Aston Villa might get on this season.
Sunderland (Last season 10th in Premier League)
The lowdown: Last season must have seemed a bit frustrating for some Black Cats’ fans. After rising as high as sixth off the back of credible wins against the likes of Chelsea and Man City, their stock slipped far enough that they were even considered a relegation candidate at one point. Steve Bruce has responded by overhauling much of the squad with the money from the sale of Jordan Henderson to Liverpool.
Summer signings have included Old Trafford stalwarts Wes Brown and John O’Shea that will add steel to a backline that shipped goals at certain times last year. Raiding his former club Birmingham has been a pastime taken up by Brucey this summer and Craig Gardner’s determination will be a valuable commodity in midfield. Up top a lot will again be expected of Asamoah Gyan and summer signing Connor Wickham will look to shine in his first top flight season. The extensive remodeling carried out by Bruce adds about as much glamour as the boss’ battered nose but they will be effective.
Star man: Asamoah Gyan (Striker) – Has already showed what he’s capable of and will continue to try and fill the large void left by Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones.
One to watch: Connor Wickham (Striker) – Arrived for an inflated sum from Ipswich and his physical presence will be something that if harnessed could bear considerable fruit for Bruce
Expected finish: May struggle to recover from the loss of Bent and may end up in the bottom half. 11th.
Line-up (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; Bardsley, Brown, Ferdinand, Richardson; Larsson, Cattermole, Gardner, Elmohamady; Sessegnon; Gyan.
The fan: Adam Capper, Staff Writer, A Love Supreme fanzine.
Expectations: I fancy this season to be a decent one, quite similar to the last. If we could sneak into the top seven, depending on cup winners, that could be a European spot which would be fantastic. Realistically, I think we’ll finish inside the top ten.
That vital player: Asamoah Gyan. He was good last season without being prolific and it appears as though he will have a serious weight of goal-scoring expectation put on his shoulders. Time to see how he copes.
Unsung hero: Kieran Richardson. He gets quite a lot of stick from the fans but he’s been a great servant to us over the last few years. He can play anywhere, does a decent job of it and is happy to play wherever the team needs him to.
Final position: If we go into it with the current squad, I think we’ll finish 9th. If we can make that one flare signing before the window closes, then I think 7th and Europe.
Aston Villa (Last season 9th in Premier League)
The lowdown: Before the summer loss of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively you’d have given the Villains a chance. Selling two of three most potent attacking threats isn’t an ideal summer. Replacements have already been made though and Charles N’Zogbia represents a shrewd investment at £9.5m. The meerkat lookalike Marc Albrighton will provide deliveries from the other side and Darren Bent killer finishing in front of goal should mean that they’re ok.
What the back four lacks in pace it makes up for in solidity and the addition of Shay Given means that they still have a pension age goalie backing them up. The losses of Young and Downing will undoubtedly be huge. There’s enough for new boss Alex McLeish to work with and they could even sneak a European spot if others slip up.
Star man: Darren Bent (Striker) – England’s most potent striker continues to confound his critics with 20 goals year-after-year. This should be this case this year as well.
One to watch: Marc Albrighton (Winger) – In a club that is producing a number of good youngsters the diminutive winger has excelled and will have a key role this term.
Line-up (4-2-3-1): Given; Young, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Makoun, Petrov; Albrighton, Ireland, N’Zogbia; Bent.
Expected finish: Likely to be the same as last year but could be higher if the delivery is good for Bent.
The fan: Darren Dugdale, The Villa Blog
Expectations: My expectations are low. Not low as in we will be relegated, just low in so much that we are maybe not going to be challenging for a European place and I’m happy with that, if I’m honest. I’m not happy that we’re not challenging, just that I accept it isn’t going to happen, so I can only really be surprised because if, as is likely, we don’t challenge for Europe, I wont be disappointed.
Look out for: Barry Bannan and Marc Albrighton. Albrighton is already a fan favourite, but Bannan should get his chance this season and I’m convinced, to my bone, that when he gets a run, he will prove he has all the qualities to make it in this league and my biggest fear is we might struggle to hold on to him, if he does get a good run – the lad is talented and has a beautiful left foot.
Expected finish: I think ninth is where we will end up, because ninth is about where I think this manager can take us in his first season.