Top half challengers – erratic Sunderland need stability
Despite spending big in the last two years, Sunderland only have 16th and 13th place finishes to show for it. With a squad sprinkled with star quality, though, it’s not beyond them to grab a top six spot – a 10/1 chance.
Manager Steve Bruce has tasted relegation, however (with Birmingham City in 2005/06), and the Black Cats are not too big to suffer the same fate. They are 7/1 to go down.
Craig Gordon signed for a goalkeeping British record transfer fee in 2007 but only looked to have lived up to the £9million price tag with a string of brilliant displays in the second part of last season. However, a second arm fracture in eight months will keep the Scotland number one out of the season opening so Bruce is pursuing David James on a short-term deal.
Ghana behemoth John Mensah has been deemed too risky to sign permanently by Bruce, so he reunites a relationship with Titus Bramble after working with him at Wigan Athletic.
The gaffe-prone defender is surely not the answer to the Black Cats’ clean sheet troubles, though, and Anton Ferdinand and Michael Turner should form the central pairing.
Alongside ever-present Darren Bent, Steed Malbranque was the only player to reach 30 league starts for Sunderland last season, highlighting the lack of a consistent team.
Lorik Cana has moved to Galatasaray and will be a big miss having been a commanding Sunderland captain. Lee Cattermole can take on the tough tackling mantle, with Keiran Richardson and Andy Reid, who did well last term, providing to creativity.
New signing Cristian Riveros will add a bit of quality on the wing after playing in the World Cup for Paraguay.
Darren Bent was unlucky to miss out on a World Cup place, given he was the second only to Wayne Rooney as England’s top Premier League scorer.
He is a goal magnet and after 25 league strikes last year could well claim the Golden Boot, at generous odd of 14/1.
Kenwyne Jones is a physical meance when fit and compliments Bent well. He scored nine goals last season and is 100/1 to be the Premier League’s top scorer in 2010/11.
Whether Sunderland push on into the top ten this season, as they have threatened to do, largely depends on how Bruce fits in his new players and whether he can pick a settled line-up. They are 33/1 to win the Carling Cup.