Sunderland verdict: Our writers assess transfer business, formations and the players facing make or break campaign

With pre-season under way, our team of Sunderland writers assess the business done to date, who is facing a make-or-break campaign and which formation Jack Ross should use.

By Richard Mennear
Sunday, 14 July, 2019, 13:13
Ethan Robson in action against South Shields on Thursday evening.

Phil Smith

What system to play?

Too often last season that was the case and the 3-4-3 looks a good move, particularly when you think that Aiden McGeady is still to come back into the picture.

The 4-2-3-1 worked a lot of the time last year, when Sunderland controlled the midfield and played those dangerous switches to the wide area.

Make-or-break season for?

With one year left on his deal, it is probably make or break for Ethan Robson.

He was desperately unlucky last season but at 22 he will know regular football is a must.

He has all the attributes and definitely brings something different to the table.

In truth, though, it's a make or break season for a lot of players.

The number entering the last year of their contract when the season starts will almost certainly be double figures

Key areas still to strengthen?

The squad is a fair size now and I'd be reluctant to see players come in who may potentially block the progress of some of the best young talent at the club.

However any further defensive upgrades would clearly be welcome and perhaps a touch more pace in the final third would be useful.

Duncan Watmore looked in great shape at South Shields and has a massive part to play, but a further addition would just ensure that the Black Cats are not too reliant on him.

Thoughts on business so far?

Conor McLaughlin looked steady you just sense he'll bring that stability and consistency the back four (or five) was so in need of last season.

It's a no-frills, sensible addition.

Lee Burge should be a steady number two but the best deal so far looks to be a real coup in landing Jordan Willis.

Pace and experience but with the potential to really kick on.

The business so far has been understated and some may be disappointed that it's mostly free agents, but at least the signings done so far are smart and address obvious deficiencies in the squad.

Richard Mennear

What system to play?

I suspect Jack Ross may move away from the flat back four this season and start with three at the back.

Jordan Willis is an excellent signing, with the reliable Conor McLaughlin another solid piece of business.

Those two could be used in a back three alongside either Tom Flanagan or Alim Ozturk. Luke O’Nien is destined to start further up the pitch and could do a job wide right in a 3-4-3 system given his energy and attacking flair.

Make or break season for?

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Jack Baldwin is the obvious one after his disappointing end to last season.

Further up the pitch, Ethan Robson needs to make an impact to fulfill his promise.

Lynden Gooch suffered from inconsistency after a blistering start, important he maintains his levels all season.

And Will Grigg up front, after his disappointing start, he must hit the goal trail.

Key areas still to strengthen?

Sunderland still need another winger and for me another striker too. Those two areas should be the priority.

Aiden McGeady committing his future is a big plus but Sunderland need more depth out wide, they struggled to create when he was out the side.

Thoughts on business so far?

Very solid.

Sunderland have been patient but so far so good, they have strengthened in goal and right full back with Willis an excellent addition at the back.

Sunderland finished fifth last season but they were not a million miles away from a promotion-winning side.

A couple more additions in key areas and Sunderland look strong.

Mark Donnelly

What system to play?

Jack Ross was keen to implement the lop-sided 3-5-2 last term, but circumstances meant a more stable 4-3-3 proved the viable option as the season wore on.

But the fact the Scot has immediately reverted to the more innovative shape - one he enjoyed success with at St Mirren - this pre-season, suggests that may be how Sunderland line-up this term.

Make or break season for?

Jack Baldwin.

The defender is one of a handful of players the club have shelled out a transfer fee for in the last twelve months and, while he justified that financial output at times last season, there is still work to do for the former Peterborough man.

He'll likely face a battle to retain his place in the side amid some heavy competition - so will need to impress in pre-season.

Key areas still to strengthen?

Towards the end of the season, with Aiden McGeady absent and Chris Maguire still feeling his way back from injury, the lack of creativity in Sunderland's side was stark.

That needs addressing and, while the returns of McGeady, Maguire, Duncan Watmore and Elliot Embleton should help in that department, some extra flair out wide wouldn't go amiss.

Thoughts on business so far?

A strong start. Ross has addressed the areas that were in need of noticeable improvement and added players with a wealth of League One experience - something which could prove vital moving forward.

Moving on high earners will help too, and the Black Cats can be more than pleased with their work in the window thus far.