Sunderland transfer priorities, Jack Diamond's role and Patrick Roberts' frustrations at Sheffield Wednesday
Sunderland made 11 changes for their Carabao Cup tie at Sheffield Wednesday – and for large parts of the match it showed.
Black Cats boss Alex Neil has said he still wants to add ‘four or five’ players to his squad before the end of the transfer window, and it’s clear to see what the club’s priorities are.
With Neil keen to rotate his starting XI and give players more minutes, some were asked to play out of position. A lack of depth in some areas was highlighted at Hillsborough.
Wednesday also made eight changes to their line-up following a 1-0 win at MK Dons on Saturday but looked far more functional. A stunning strike from Dennis Adeniran and Sylla Sow finish saw them progress.
Here are some takeaways from the match:
Jack Diamond’s role
One of the few positives for Sunderland in the first half was Jack Diamond's performance, albeit playing in an unnatural position.
Like he did in pre-season, the 22-year-old led the line as Sunderland started with a back three and wing-backs, while Patrick Roberts and Elliot Embleton operated just behind the striker.
Diamond produced some probing runs with the ball and was full of energy but clearly looks more suited to playing on the wing.
Still, with Neil unwilling to risk Ross Stewart or Ellis Simms, and with Leon Dajaku unavailable, it was Diamond who was chosen to play as a centre-forward, a position where the Black Cats still need to strengthen.
As for Diamond, with the likes of Alex Pritchard, Embleton and Roberts ahead of him in those attacking midfield/wide roles, it feels like he may need to leave on loan, preferably to a League One club.
Patrick Roberts’ frustrations
Another wide player who appears to have been hindered by Sunderland’s change of shape is Roberts.
After playing such a key role at the end of last season, the 25-year-old has racked up just 11 minutes in Sunderland’s first two Championship fixtures.
That is partly down to Neil’s use of a back three and wing-backs, with Lynden Gooch and Jack Clarke more suited to playing in the wide positions and Alex Pritchard excelling in the No 10 spot.
Roberts received a chance playing more centrally at Hillsborough, the ground where he scored Sunderland’s winner in the play-offs, yet the side’s attack never really clicked.
Against an organised Owls defence, Roberts was never really allowed to run at players or showcase his ability.
There will be more opportunities for a player with his quality, yet he’s currently fighting for a place in Sunderland’s strongest XI.
Other positions to strengthen
Whichever system Sunderland deploy, another area where they will need to strengthen is on the left side of defence.
There was far too much reliance on Dennis Cirkin last season and, while Jack Clarke has performed well as a wing-back, there are a lack of alternatives on that flank.
Harrison Sonha came into the side as a wing-back against Wednesday, yet the 20-year-old has predominantly played as a central midfielder at youth level. He’s one of the players who would benefit from a loan move this summer.
Another area where Sunderland will be looking to strengthen is in central midfield, with a lack of back-up options for Corry Evans in the holding role.
Jay Matete operated in a deeper midfield position against Wednesday but has often looked more effective when in possession higher up the pitch.