Sunderland's pre season opponents assessed: key players, form and why the Black Cats are facing them

Sunderland are set to kick-off their series of pre-season friendlies this week - with some stern tests over the coming weeks.

By Mark Donnelly
Monday, 08 July, 2019, 12:42
Sunderland will face Benfica and Belenenses during pre-season

Jack Ross’ side will face FOUR different opponents during a schedule designed to prepare them for the rigours of life in League One.

But what can the Black Cats expect from their upcoming opponents? We take a look:

Who are they? - The Mariners will no doubt be familiar to the vast majority of the Black Cats’ fanbase, with the side having made a sizeable impression on the North East football scene in recent years.

After missing out on promotion from the Evo-Stik Premier Division last season, Shields will be eyeing another title tilt this term - and are building a strong squad for the task ahead.

With some bumper crowds backing them, the club certainly seem to be on the up - and will provide Sunderland with a stern test.

Why are Sunderland playing them? - As is often traditional, Sunderland will start their pre-season campaign with a trip to lower league opposition.

While perhaps acting as a chance to brush off any pre-season cobwebs, the visit to Mariners Park will also offer Sunderland a stern test.

In front of a raucous crowd, the non-league outfit will be determined to cause an upset - regardless of the fact it’s a pre-season friendly.

Ones to watch? - Defender Dillon Morse impresed for the Mariners last season, putting in a number of commanding performances while contributing some vital goals during their promotion push.

Midfielder Robert Briggs has a penchant for the spectcaular too, having netted some stunning goals in recent years.

BENFICA B

Thursday 18th July, 7:30pm

Who are they? - The second string side of Portuguese giants Benfica, the club’s ‘B’ team currently operate in the LigaPro - the second tier of football in Portugal.

They were initially founded in 1999 and, after a brief hiatus between 2006 and 2012, have returned in order to hand the club’s talented youngsters the chance to play competitive football.

The side regularly face English opposition, and recently played Liverpool during a warm-up game ahead of the Reds’ Champions League final with Tottenham.

They finished fourth in the second tier last season.

Why are Sunderland playing them? - Jack Ross was keen to see his side take-in some pre-season friendlies during their trip to Portugal - and Benfica’s second string will provide a competitive fixture.

A mainly youthful squad will put Sunderland’s backline to the test, with intricate movement and raw pace proving tricky to deal with.

Many players in League One possess similar speed - and it’s something Sunderland need to deal with better than they did last season.

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Ones to watch? - As with any ‘B’ team, it’s tough to predict which players will feature - with Benfica having the luxury and promoting and demoting individuals as they see fit.

But among the stars who could feature are German Conti, an experienced Argentinian left-back with senior experience; Chris Willock, a former Arsenal youngster who top-scored for the side last season; and Jota, an exciting forward with experience for Portugal’s under-21 side.

BELENENSES

Saturday 20th July, 7:30pm

Who are they? - Formed after a breakaway of two clubs in 2018, Belenenses SAD play in the Portuguese top flight - having been placed there during their first season of existence.

In a season dominated by off-field issues associated with the breakaway from their former club, the side mustered a 9th place finish in Primera Liga in 2018/19.

With more stability now, there are hopes the side can push on once more in the new campaign.

Why are Sunderland playing them? - While they remain a fairly new side, the Belenenses squad has some quality in their ranks - and they will provide Sunderland with a real test ahead of the campaign.

While their forward line was somewhat lacking last season, their defence was fairly tight, meaning Sunderland will have to be patient and clever when trying to unlock their backline.

Good preparation for some of the more stubborn League One sides, it seems.

Ones to watch? - Midfielder Vincent Sasso is a familiar name to some, having featured for Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship.

Forward Lica also had a spell in England, too, when he featured for Nottingham Forest.

SC HEERENVEEN

Saturday 27th July, 7:00pm

Who are they? - The Dutch giants have been a staple in the Eredivise in recent years, and will bring a squad packed with quality to the Stadium of Light.

Indeed, the club have played in the Europa League as recently as 2013 and will arguably be Sunderland’s sternest test of pre-season.

Why are Sunderland playing them? - See above - the side are packed with quality and will prove a real test in what is Sunderland’s final pre-season outing.

While they will be a different proposition to much of League One, playing against such a talented side can only yield positives in the long-run.

Ones to watch? - Loanee Jens Odgaard will likely lead the line for Heerenveen and will prove a real handful, having previously played for Inter Milan.

Behind him, Ben Rienstra will aim to pull the strings in midfield.