Building the Sunderland AFC 2020/21 squad: Moving on to the midfield - and Phil Parkinson’s potential targets
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.
Having already looked at the goalkeeping department and the back five, we now move on to the midfield - where there are question marks over a number of players.
Here’s where Sunderland stand, where they may need to strengthen and the key decisions facing Parkinson in the coming weeks.
CERTAIN TO STAY
Refreshingly for Sunderland, the midfield area is one which looks unlikely to undergo major change - particularly when it comes to Parkinson’s preferred options.
Max Power and George Dobson have been the club’s midfield two for the vast majority of the season and, although Josh Scowen was handed a start at Bristol Rovers, the aforementioned duo were certainly key players in Parkinson’s system.
It’s good news then, that both remain under contract for next season.
If nothing more, it gives Parkinson a base to build from and will allow some form of continuity in the engine room.
THE QUESTION MARKS
While Power and Dobson’s futures on Wearside look certain, there are question marks over the other three midfielders at Parkinson’s disposal.
Grant Leadbitter took a step-back from football earlier this year, but he remains under contract until the summer of 2021.
Should he feel ready to return for the new campaign, he could prove a key figure - not just on the field, but off it too where his experience and desire to drive the club forward will be an asset.
Naturally, if he were to take a more permanent step back then a replacement would have to be sought, but here’s hoping that isn’t the case.
His fellow midfielders, Scowen and Ethan Robson, will likely be pressing concerns for the club.
Both players are set to see their current deals expire on June 30 and could depart the Stadium of Light.
Scowen’s future is unlikely to be resolved until Sunderland know which division they are in next season.
While Parkinson will undoubtedly be keen to retain the former QPR man, questions would have to be raised over whether the 27-year-old would commit to another spell in League One - and indeed whether the Black Cats could match the offers he may receive from second tier clubs.
In an ideal world though, he would stay at the Academy of Light.
Ethan Robson’s future will be an interesting call.
The academy graduate obviously has talent and has arguably been unlucky not to have been given a chance in the first-team as of yet.
A loan spell at Grimsby Town earlier this season proved his ability but he is still to make an appearance - or even make the bench - under Parkinson.
So there is a growing belief that Robson may be allowed to move on when his contract expires.
That may be an option that suits both parties, and is looking more and more likely as time passes.
DIP INTO THE MARKET?
Assuming Robson does depart, Sunderland will require some additional depth in the centre of midfield - meaning at least one new face is expected.
But who could be available in the summer?
Parkinson demands a great deal of energy and tenacity from his midfield duo, and that could mean he turns to a young option - more in the mould of Dobson.
Luca Connell - who played under Parkinson at Bolton and is now at Celtic - was touted as a potential loan recruit in January to play at left wing-back, but could certainly fit into the midfield mould. There would be questions posed as to whether he could deal with the physicality of League One, though.
Another tempting option could be Tom Lowery at Crewe Alexandra. While only 22, he has close to 100 senior appearances under his belt and has become a key player in a Crewe side challenging for promotion. Similarly to Dobson last summer, he could be signed for a relatively small fee and sold for a profit in the future.
If Parkinson is looking for a more experienced head, he could turn to Richie Smallwood. Again, he was linked in January and - with his Blackburn contract up on June 30 - could be available on a free transfer.
OUR FINAL VERDICT
Retain - Max Power, George Dobson, Josh Scowen, Grant Leadbitter. That gives us a good core of midfield players, and is a group who could compete either in League One or the Championship. It’s also worth considering that Bali Mumba could play here if required.
Release - Ethan Robson. The young midfielder is obviously talented, but he’s at a stage in his career where he needs regular first-team football - and Sunderland look unlikely to provide that in the near future.
New signings - With Robson departing, Sunderland will need to add at least one central midfielder to their ranks. We’d go for Tom Lowery - who has excelled at Crewe Alexandra and, similarly to Dobson last term, could prove an investment with some resale value.
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: Max Power, George Dobson, Josh Scowen, Grant Leadbitter, New Signing 4 (CM - Tom Lowery)
Forwards: To come on Thursday
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What would you do in midfield ahead of next season?
We’d love to hear your thoughts - either tweet them to @sunechosafc or email [email protected]