The glaring squad gaps Sunderland must fill in the transfer market after recent departures
The departure of Reece James underlines the need for Sunderland to strengthen their squad for the upcoming campaign.
Incoming business is unlikely to begin in earnest until the takeover led by Mark Campbell is completed, likely to be some time next week.
When the new regime do take charge, moving quickly in the transfer market will be a priority.
Sunderland released their retained list last week, which saw a handful of players depart.
Though Sunderland’s wage bill remains significant, a number of gaps have appeared that need to be filled in the coming weeks.
In Jon McLaughlin, Sunderland have without question the best goalkeeper in the division.
Adam Davies of Barnsley pushed him close last season but this year the Black Cats will know their stopper is a major advantage in the push for promotion.
What they do need is reliable back-up.
Robbin Ruiter’s exit was unsurprising. He did well in the Checkatrade Trophy but was on a good wage for League One level and so it was a pragmatic, sensible decision to part ways.
Max Stryjek’s departure was more surprising given how highly-rated he was and how fondly Jack Ross had spoken about him this season.
The boss was insistent that he could have a first-team future.
Stryjek, though, was clear in stating that he needs regular senior football now.
An impressive loan spell at Eastleigh last season will leave him with plenty of suitors.
With Max Johnstone also released from the U23 set-up, Sunderland are in need of bodies right through the club.
Who they bring in won’t define the next campaign, but it needs addressing nevertheless.
Jack Ross has a big decision to make this summer as to whether he persists with Luke O’Nien at right-back.
He did superbly in that role last season and has great attributes for it: relentless energy, tough to beat in 1v1 situations and decent in the air.
But Ross may feel he needs that drive and those legs in the final third to improve Sunderland’s attacking output.
Either way, Adam Matthews’ departure means at least one addition is needed.
Donald Love will be fit to start pre-season but it will be a big ask for him to take on a lead role given how much football he missed last season.
On the other flank, Sunderland face an interesting dilemma.
Reece James’ surprise departure hints at a bigger role for Denver Hume, a player who Ross has regularly praised and is desperate to improve in the first team environment.
WIth Bryan Oviedo surely set to leave this summer, however, Ross will not want to gamble on Hume entirely, a player still so inexperienced and therefore likely to be up and down in terms of form.
The bind for the Black Cats is that they will surely not want to tie up more wages in this area until the expensive Oviedo does leave.
Sunderland are currently well stocked in this position but strengthening is a must.
As it stands, Glenn Loovens, Jack Baldwin, Alim Ozturk and Tom Flanagan are all still contracted to the club.
Ross will want at least one more addition, replacing Jimmy Dunne who has returned to Burnley.
It would not be a surprise to see him move into the market again should one of that quartet depart, or, as is possible, Ross decides to utilise Flanagan in a full-back role he is used to from his years at Burton Albion.
Ross will be determined to keep hold of Aiden McGeady and it seems unlikely the player will want to move on after such an enjoyable campaign for the most part last time out.
Getting Lynden Gooch back to his early-season form will also be a key goal for the Sunderland boss.
Chris Maguire is an option out wide, and Duncan Watmore will be crucial if he can finally have the summer break and full pre-season he needs.
Ross will want the option of playing him through the middle, though, and so with Lewis Morgan returning to Celtic, another dynamic winger will be on the shopping list.
Rotherham’s Jon Taylor has already been linked.
Nowhere is Sunderland’s squad more imbalanced than central midfield.
They have a huge number of excellent options, but lack a genuine number ten.
At his best, Chris Maguire showed what a difference a creative player off the striker can make to this side.
He needs competition and it would surely be a savvy move to shift some of the wage burden in midfield towards this department.
Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke mean Sunderland should be well set for the new campaign, but it is clear that Ross wants another option.
Lawrence Shankland is a long-term target and Freddie Ladapo has also been discussed.
It would be a big boost for the Black Cats to further strengthen their ranks, and a challenge for Ross to get Grigg and Wyke fully fit and firing
Their last two campaigns have begun with significant weaknesses up front.
Josh Maja compensated for that last season, as Lewis Grabban did the season before, but the January departure of both rocked Sunderland.
A settled and consistent frontline could make the difference.