THE POSITION of Gus Poyet and his loyal lieutenants was made crystal clear at the end of last season.
The bulk of Sunderland’s hefty incoming summer business needed to be completed early. Time was needed to mould a new-look side into shape, particularly considering the size of the overhaul which was inevitably on the horizon.
But it didn’t quite work out like that.
The delays stemming from the World Cup and the ludicrous over-pricing in the domestic market saw just four fresh faces fly back from the pre-season jaunt to Portugal at the end of August.
Poyet couldn’t hide his frustration. The digs at sporting director Lee Congerton to get a wriggle on were not particularly subtle during that 10 days on the Algarve.
Ultimately, Congerton fulfilled his remit in his first transfer window at the helm. To bring in a host of new boys – most of which needed to have some background in the Premier League – on a budget was no mean feat.
But after the final two members of Sunderland’s shopping spree – Sebastian Coates and Ricky Alvarez – arrived at the Stadium of Light less than three weeks ago, Poyet still feels he is playing catch-up with the Black Cats’ preparations.
“We’ve got a bit of a handicap because we didn’t train with the whole group as much as I was expecting at this time of the year,” he told the Echo.
“I’m not talking about preparing for games, I’m talking about tactics, the systems and the ideas. We had two players arriving two weeks ago.
“Let’s just say we are a little bit behind in terms of what I want; if I want to change the system of how we’re going to mark or how we’re going to defend or how we use the strikers.
“It needs to be clear for the players. We didn’t do that.
“I was expecting to do it in Portugal, but we didn’t have the whole squad, so we’re a little bit behind.
“Now there was some time this week, but at the same time, we needed to prepare for this game (Burnley).
“Maybe I will do it a little bit like I did last year, with experimenting a bit during the games, depending on the games.”
While Poyet feels that the final details of his blueprint still need to be put into action, the bulk of his philosophy is being practised by his squad.
That is a stark contrast to the early stages of his Sunderland reign, when he admits he was heading into games on a wing and a prayer over what he would see from his side.
“The good thing is that we’ve got a feeling as a group of people working together, that when we go into the games, we’re ready,” he added.
“I didn’t have that feeling in the first two months last year.
“I would go into the games thinking ‘okay, we’ve done as much as we could, but...’. There was always a but.
“But now the team is alright, we’re strong, we’ve got options and we’re fit.
“We’ll see if we can use Sebber Coates on Tuesday (the Capital One Cup third round clash with Stoke) and things like that, just to make sure the team is there.
“And then it’s football. I cannot stop a short or score a goal.”