Much of Simon Grayson’s early tenure has been encouraging.
There have been some well received signings, though clearly much more is needed.
Young talent has made a breakthrough and perhaps most importantly after last season, the manager has delivered a message that fans can get behind.
It is of obvious concern nevertheless that with the season fast approaching, Sunderland’s best side is a mystery.
Some who have impressed may well leave, if not before the season then soon after it begins.
The likely formation is also unknown, though that is a quite deliberate ploy for Grayson who values pragmatism and the ability to surprise the opposition.
The Black Cats have looked best in a 4-1-4-1, so what is his best side in that shape at the moment?
Most importantly, what strenghtening needs to be done to improve it before the visit of Derby County?
Mika remains an unknown quantity but has not convinced in the pre-season schedule so far. Stryjek is unproven but has an impressive stature for a keeper so young and commands his box well. Probably Sunderland’s best bet at the moment but a new addition is undoubtedly required.
Grayson is yet to come across any particularly convincing partnerships at the back. Lamine Kone will probably leave but in truth is not performing particularly well when called upon. Tyias Browning has looked strong and comfortable, while Papy Djilobodji, erratic last season, has been dependable so far.
Left-back currently looks a problem with Bryan Oviedo injured, though Brendan Galloway is an impressive athlete and should improve. John O’Shea has not been at his best but has not had a regular run after a delayed start to pre-season. An atheltic, Championship proven centre-back would make this squad look far stronger.
This to an extent reflects the current uncertainty at Sunderland. Lens and Khazri are likely to leave, but have been by far and away the Black Cats best creative players. Even if available, Grayson’s insistence on hard running means it is unlikely the pair could play in the same side as McGeady, who is likely to take Khazri’s position on the left flank.
Cattermole and Ndong are good options, but Jack Rodwell has looked to be lacking in confidence in front of goal and therefore not an easy fit as the most advanced of the three midfielders. If Khazri was to unexpectedly stay that would surely be a role in which he could do significant damage.
That is unlikely, however, and so for Grayson to have a truly balanced side he needs someone comfortable playing in that space in front of the opposition defence, and a winger who can offset McGeady by hugging the touchline and offer a big physical output.
Josh Maja has been the standout performer up front but still has some development to do physically before he will likely be considered a regular starter. James Vaughan offers the presence and aerial ability Grayson likes to have up front and at the moment will begin the season as first choice number nine. It is another position, however, where greater variety is needed, particularly if the manager wants to play an orthodox two up front.