Analysis: Chris Young assesses the futures of Sunderland’s attacking players

Jermaine Defoe celebrates his goal 2-0 win away to Everton.
Jermaine Defoe celebrates his goal 2-0 win away to Everton.
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After a third successive near-brush with relegation, there will be changes to the Sunderland squad this summer with up to half-a-dozen new signings planned by Dick Advocaat.

But what does the future hold for those already on the books?

In the second part of a two-part feature, Sunderland reporter Chris Young looks at what next season potentially holds for those on the club’s books.

MIDFIELDERS

Lee Cattermole

One of Sunderland’s main priorities this summer will be to finalise a new contract for Cattermole, with only a year to run on his current deal.

The club’s longest-serving first-teamer continues to demonstrate how pivotal he is to Sunderland, with his absence for two months at the turn of the year through injury one of the factors in the deterioration of results which saw Gus Poyet pay with his job.

Like Poyet before him, Dick Advocaat grasped the importance of Cattermole to Sunderland’s midfield and he will be desperate to build a new-look side around the Teessider.

Seb Larsson

As important to the midfield as Cattermole, the Supporters’ Association Player of the Year picked up where he left off from the Great Escape in grasping the nuances of the role in the middle of the park.

Without Larsson’s Duracell Bunny contribution, Sunderland lose something and the Swedish international will continue to be a main-stay next season.

The challenge for Advocaat and Lee Congerton will be to find a more creative midfielder who can complement the graft of Cattermole and Larsson.

Jack Rodwell

Huge expectations accompanied the big-money investment in Rodwell, which the England international struggled to live up to during his maiden season on Wearside, albeit he wasn’t helped by injuries.

Perhaps Rodwell needs to become a braver figure in playing through the pain barrier, rather than being sidelined by a series of niggling minor problems which prevent him playing consistently.

But there is a big season ahead for the ex-Manchester City man, who can no longer use the mitigation of rust.

Jordi Gomez

There were a couple of games where Gomez struggled – most notably the defeat to QPR – yet remember that the Spaniard was signed on a free transfer and was only earmarked for a squad role.

The problems for Gomez came when he was asked to play in a run of successive games – usually due to Rodwell’s absence through injury or lack of form.

But Gomez showed under Advocaat that he is a worthy member of the squad and can certainly continue to fulfill an adequate back-up role.

Liam Bridcutt

Still hasn’t proved that Poyet’s utter faith in him is justified.

Bridcutt’s only start under Advocaat was in the goalless draw against Leicester and it was another occasion when he struggled to convince.

With Poyet now gone, if Sunderland receive any interest for Bridcutt’s signature this summer, then there has to be a strong suspicion that the Black Cats will cash in.

Will Buckley

Injuries didn’t help his quest to establish himself in the Premier League, but like ex-Brighton team-mate Bridcutt, Buckley has not convinced he can make the step up to the top flight.

Advocaat gave Buckley a chance by starting him at Stoke, but he was hauled off at half-time and from that point on, the head coach resolved to persist with his favoured 4-3-3 system.

Like Bridcutt, if there are any suitors this summer, then Sunderland are likely to offload.

Emanuele Giaccherini

It was hard not to feel sorry for Giaccherini after a season which promised so much, yet never got off the ground due to persistent injuries.

Sunderland are keen to keep the Italian international for a third year and Giaccherini himself is not looking to move on, despite the constant stream of speculation linking him with a return to Serie A.

But Advocaat will need to solve the dilemma of where to use Giaccherini if the former Juventus man is finally to justify Sunderland’s lofty £7m investment from two years ago.

Adam Johnson

The winger remains Sunderland’s most creative player, who again proved to be a derby hero and set up Jermain Defoe’s crucial clinching goal in May’s win at Everton.

But Johnson’s future will inevitably be decided by the outcome of his trial at the end of August. Neither player nor club can look any further than that at present.

Ricky Alvarez

Sunderland had genuinely high hopes when the Argentine international arrived on a season-long loan from Inter Milan and there remains the belief at the club that his problematic knee injury scuppered any chance of success.

But with Alvarez facing surgery to cure his problem and subsequently several months on the sidelines, Sunderland are determined to avoid paying a £7.5m fee to sign him permanently.

Inter think Sunderland are duty-bound to cough-up that amount though and it’s a transfer which could require arbitration.

George Honeyman

A consistently bright light for the Under-21s, who was handed his first-team debut in the FA Cup fifth round defeat at Bradford, albeit he was introduced far too late to affect things.

Honeyman would benefit from a loan move to guage whether his diminutive stature will be a barrier to making the grade at Sunderland.

Liam Agnew

The Under-21s skipper made his first-team bow in the FA Cup fourth round victory at Fulham, and has proved himself a neat and tidy performer in the defensive midfield holding role.

Can he make it? He needs to demonstrate his value at a higher level than non-league Boston, which has been his only other experience of competitive action.

El Hadji-Ba

Was perhaps unlucky to be sent on loan to French side Bastia after impressing in pre-season.

There’s an outside chance Ba could still have a future at Sunderland, but if there is interest from elsewhere in signing him, then the Black Cats are unlikely to stand in his way.

Charis Mavrias

Another De Fanti signing who remains on the books for the moment, but is likely be moved on this summer ahead of the final 12 months of his contract.

Panathinaikos want to re-sign Mavrias, but Sunderland are likely to wait and see if there are any more lucrative offers which emerge from elsewhere.

STRIKERS

Connor Wickham

There are still too many occasions when supporters want to give Wickham a kick up the backside, and Advocaat, himself, has alluded to that same problem.

Yet for much of this season, Wickham has been Sunderland’s most threatening attacker and after penning a lucrative new contract before the turn of the year, he will remain a key figure for the Black Cats next season.

If Sunderland can land a new left-winger this summer – which is one of their priorities – then it should allow Wickham more opportunity to play in his favoured central striker role.

Jermain Defoe

The four goals netted by Defoe resulted in 10 precious points in the battle for survival and justified Sunderland’s January move, particularly as it moved Jozy Altidore off the books.

Yes, Defoe’s best days are behind him and he may not be such a fixture in the starting XI next season, but he’s still a natural finisher and that’s not a bad asset to have in the squad.

Advocaat must find a system which brings the most out of the 32-year-old though, rather than using him as a makeshift wing-back, as was the case during the survival challenge.

Steven Fletcher

A final day goal at Chelsea – ending a seven-month drought – is unlikely to spare Fletcher a departure from the Stadium of Light this summer.

Advocaat clearly rates Fletcher and his performances did improve under the Dutchman, yet a meagre tally of eight in two seasons has been symptomatic of Sunderland’s problems in front of goal.

With 12 months to go on his contract, Sunderland will surely look to cash-in now, rather than let the Scot leave for nothing next summer.

Danny Graham

No one could begrudge Graham a fortuitous first Sunderland goal, which would ultimately prove to be hugely significant in the battle against the drop.

Graham was the personification of the grit in Sunderland’s ranks to remain in the Premier League and he does offer some physicality in the final third, even if there are question marks over his quality.

With 12 months left on his lucrative deal, selling Graham would not reap such dividends as offloading Fletcher, and he is likely to remain as a back-up option.

Duncan Watmore

Advocaat never swayed to the weight of public opinion that was clamouring for Watmore to be given an opportunity, when all of his first-team peers were struggling in front of goal.

But there is a big pre-season ahead for Watmore. At 21, he needs to be playing competitively now.

He has to catch Advocaat’s eye during the friendly programme and prove that he does have the calibre to make the grade in the Premier League.

Mikael Mandron

Sunderland’s coaching staff have had high hopes for Mandron, but he has struggled when given competitive action on loan – just three appearances during a two-month stint at League Two Shrewsbury.

At 20, the jury remains out on whether the 6ft 3in frontman will be able to handle the Premier League.