Building the Sunderland AFC 2020/21 squad: Casting our eye over the defenders - with THREE exciting new signings planned

In a new series, we build our ideal Sunderland AFC squad for the 2020/21 season - looking at who should be released, retained and signed.

Tuesday, 21st April 2020, 1:34 pm

After starting with goalkeepers yesterday, we now move on to the backline - where a number of players could depart the club this summer, and a significant change is anticipated.

Here’s where Sunderland stand, where they may need to strengthen and the key decisions facing Parkinson in the coming weeks.

CERTAIN TO STAY

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Examining Sunderland's defensive options as we build our 2020/21 squad

While Sunderland’s defensive ranks could undergo some real change before the 2020/21 season kicks-off, there are a host of players whose futures look certain.

Conor McLaughlin, Jordan Willis and Denver Hume are all under contract until the summer of 2021, so their future looks certain.

So too does that of Luke O’Nien who, while his initial deal on Wearside was set to run-out on June 30, is set to see his stay extended by at least twelve months with the club holding an option on his contract.

If that hasn’t been activated already, it will be soon.

While his future is not quite certain, Bailey Wright is also a player that Sunderland would like to remain on Wearside.

The Australian has already moved to the area and has settled in Newcastle, paving the way for a permanent move once his Bristol City contract expires.

So while it’s far from a certainty, there is reason to be confident that Wright will be a Sunderland player again next season.

THE QUESTION MARKS

So there are four certainties to stay - but who else could be remaining at the Academy of Light?

Tommy Smith was signed as a short-term measure and, given we’re yet to see him on the pitch, he looks certain to be released come the end of his deal.

Declan John will likely fall into the same category. Having yet to even feature on the bench, and with Parkinson unconvinced that the wing-back has done enough to displace Hume, it looks likely that the Welsh international won’t be back on Wearside next season.

Jack Baldwin also looks certain to be released come the summer.

Sunderland’s remaining three defensive options will likely prove tougher calls.

Alim Ozturk, Tom Flanagan and Joel Lynch are all out of contract in the summer and, some would argue, there is little to separate the trio in terms of ability.

So who will stay and who will go?

Parkinson has frequently spoken of how Flanagan’s versatility - he can play anywhere across the back three - has proven useful. He, therefore, may be top of the pile to be handed a new contract.

It then boils down to Ozturk and Lynch. Provided Sunderland continue to play their current system, which seems likely, they will need at least five centre backs on their books.

So Lynch and Ozturk could fulfil that requirement if they are retained, but the Black Cats may well feel there are better options available to him.

Ozturk, for all he has proven a loveable character and a reliable performer, has struggled for regular football under Parkinson and an exit may suit all parties.

As for Lynch, he has looked steady enough in the new system but would arguably find himself behind Wright in the pecking order next season. That, coupled with the geographical aspects of remaining at Sunderland, means Lynch is likely to leave.

DIP INTO THE MARKET?

So that leaves three vacancies which Phil Parkinson will need to fill.

He’ll need at least two additional centre backs and some more competition for Denver Hume on the left side of the back five.

You would imagine Parkinson would look for one centre back who can play in the middle of the three - as competition for Wright - and another who will challenge Flanagan and Willis for the roles either side.

So who could the options be?

Chey Dunkley at Wigan Athletic is set to be released this summer and would be a fine addition should the Black Cats remain in League One. As too would Sean Raggett - out of contract at Norwich City this summer having spent the season on loan at Portsmouth.

Alex Pearce, Murray Wallace and Tom Clarke are other potential options who could be available for nothing this season.

Finding competition for Hume may be trickier. Parkinson’s system places a great deal of emphasis on the wing-backs, and so prospective recruits will be screened heavily.

If Sunderland really want someone to push Hume, a move for Everton’s Luke Garbutt - who has spent this campaign on loan at Ipswich - would fit the bill.

Comfortable carrying the ball forward and reliable at the back, he’d certainly add to this squad.

OUR FINAL VERDICT

Retain - Luke O’Nien, Denver Hume, Jordan Willis, Conor McLaughlin, Tom Flanagan, Bailey Wright. We’ve covered all bases here and, with the new signings we’ll detail below, there would be plenty of defensive cover.

Release - Alim Ozturk, Declan John, Tommy Smith, Jack Baldwin. Some changes are needed, and Parkinson may believe he can improve on this quartet if backed in the transfer window.

New signings - We’re going to say that Sunderland will need at least three new recruits at the back - two new centre backs, and some extra competition for Denver Hume on the left-hand side. Our picks would be Sean Raggett, Chey Dunkley and Luke Garbutt. An additional centre back may be needed if a permanent stay for Wright cannot be struck.

OUR 25-MAN SQUAD SO FAR:

Goalkeepers: Jon McLaughlin, Lee Burge

Defenders: Conor McLaughlin, Luke O’Nien, Jordan Willis, Bailey Wright, Tom Flanagan, New Signing 1 (CB - Sean Raggett), New Signing 2 (CB - Chey Dunkley), Denver Hume New Signing 3 (LWB - Luke Garbutt)

Midfielders: To come on Wednesday

Forwards: To come on Thursday

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What would you do with the backline ahead of next season?

We’d love to hear your thoughts - either tweet them to @sunechosafc or email [email protected]