The eight or nine new signings Sunderland and Alex Neil will be looking to make in this summer's transfer window
Sunderland are preparing for the start of this summer’s transfer window – and the Black Cats will be looking to strengthen in several positions ahead of the 2022/23 Championship campaign.
Alex Neil’s squad only consists of 14 first-team players under contract for the upcoming season, while the club are in talks with Lynden Gooch, Bailey Wright and Patrick Roberts over new deals.
Last summer Sunderland took the approach to lower the age of their squad, making several signings from clubs in higher divisions who didn’t have as much first-team experience.
The Black Cats will still be looking to sign players who can be long-term assets, yet a balance will need to be struck between youth and experience while competing at a higher level.
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While there is only one starting place up for grabs, that applies to the goalkeeper position.
Anthony Patterson impressed between the sticks in the second half of the 2021/22 campaign, yet Sunderland do need another option following the departures of Lee Burge and Thorben Hoffmann.
Ideally they will be able to sign an experienced stopper to compete with Patterson, who is rated highly but remains unproven at Championship level.
Sunderland are also short of options in the heart of defence and, even if Wright does sign a new deal, Danny Batth is the only other senior centre-back at the club.
Wright and Batth formed a robust partnership as Sunderland won promotion via the play-offs and could well start as the side’s defensive pairing in the Championship.
Yet while both players are strong and commanding figures, the Black Cats are looking for a left-footed centre-back, ideally a player who also has a bit more pace as well as pose in possession.
Now that Arbenit Xhemajli, Callum Doyle and Jordan Willis have left the club, Sunderland will probably need two more centre-back options – assuming Wright also stays.
There is the possibility that Sunderland could sign someone who is comfortable playing at full-back and centre-back, though there is clearly a need for some natural options for the left and right flanks.
At Norwich and Preston, Neil often deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation, though he has often been forced to set his side up with a back three and wing-backs at Sunderland.
That was predominantly because of the squad’s lack of full-backs, and Neil will want to sign someone who can compete with Dennis Cirkin on the left.
The Sunderland boss has said he sees Carl Winchester as a right-sided defender, while he has also spoken highly of Trai Hume, who was called up to the latest Northern Ireland squad.
It is hoped that Niall Huggins, who can play as a left or right-back, can return to action after an injury-ravaged 2021/22 campaign, yet the priority will simply be getting the former Leeds man back up to speed.
Further forward Sunderland appear well-stocked in central midfield, with Corry Evans, Luke O’Nien, Dan Neil and Jay Matete providing a range of options.
After a tricky start to his first season on Wearside, Evans’ role under Neil proved crucial during the run-in, with the Black Cats captain regularly positioning himself as an extra man behind the ball to prevent counter attacks.
Sunderland may look at signing another player who could operate in that role, with Matete seen more as a box-to-box midfielder who can drive forward in possession.
Neil has also said he sees O’Nien as an advanced midfielder who can support attacks and arrive late in the opposition’s box.
Wingers and attacking midfield
If Neil does stick with a 4-2-3-1 system, like the one he deployed in the League One play-off final, Alex Pritchard and Elliot Embleton provide capable options in the No 10 role, while the latter has been used in a wider position under the Scot.
Providing Gooch and Roberts sign new deals, Neil will have two options for the right flank who have performed under him in recent months.
Leon Dajaku has also joined the Black Cats permanently, after a clause in his loan deal was activated following promotion, while Jack Diamond will return from a loan spell at Harrogate.
Still, Neil will want at least two more wide players who can help his side press from the front and create chances in a tougher league.
The club are exploring the possibility of bringing Jack Clarke back to Wearside following his loan spell last season, yet the 21-year-old only has a year left on his contract at Tottenham, making another loan move unlikely at this stage.
At the top end of the pitch, clearly the club can’t simply rely on Ross Stewart, who started every league game and all three play-off fixtures during the 2021/22 season.
Sunderland have opened talks with Everton about the possibility of re-signing former loanee Nathan Broadhead but, like Clarke, the 24-year-old only has a year left on his contract.
Broadhead formed a good partnership with Stewart last season and it would be beneficial if the club could sign someone who can link up with the Scot, as well as providing back-up.
Even if Broadhead does re-sign, it would be favourable for Sunderland to sign another striker, potentially someone who could play through the middle and as a wide forward.
Clearly then there is a lot of work to do in the coming months, with potentially around nine positions to fill.
Following last month’s win at Wembley it feels like Sunderland have multiple players who can make the step up to Championship level, as well as a proven head coach.
Still, the club’s recruitment will be key as they look to be competitive in a higher division.