Re-Shaping or Losing The Plot?
Sunderland's re-shaped side have now completed three competitive games- all games they could be expected to win comfortably if they are to have any prospect of breaking into the 'top ten'.
However, while some of the personnel have changed, the performances seemed depressingly familiar. A bright start at home was thrown away through ill-discipline and sloppy defending. A dreadful away performance- like so many last term- demonstrating impotence in attack and little imagination or energy in midfield before the inevitable error in the centre of the defence gifted the points to the opposition. And a rather flattering victory over Championship opponents who, Bent's opportunism aside, might have swapped shirts with the home team without anybody really noticing.
'Re-shaping' is clearly a more subtle process than I had imagined; I thought it might involve strengthening the team. While the manager has spoken confidently enough about the team's weaknesses and the need to recruit better players to progress, his actions in the transfer market seem less sure-footed. Three players who did seem capable of taking a step up have left the club, meanwhile most of those whom re-shaping might have been expected to move on are still there.
None of the new arrivals seem to have improved the balance of the squad. Currently there are five central defenders in the first team squad and at least two more still on the club's books. Yet it remains difficult to find a pairing who can negotiate a single game without injury or error, let alone put together any sort of run. At full-back, Hutton's return to Spurs has reduced further what were already poor options.
In midfield, there is still no 'holding' player who can win tackles without fouling- free kicks are again costing us dear- gain possession through intelligent positioning and consistently pass the ball to a colleague instead of giving it away. Nor is there anyone offering the speed, subtlety or trickery needed to beat ordinary but organised Premier league defending, or who can regularluy contribute goals.
Up front, Jones is perhaps the most grievous loss, as he was a handful for most defenders, and worked them hard whether he had the ball or not. Why he was allowed to leave- and for such a modest fee- remains something of a mystery. Of course, we can still hope the that players brought in will quickly find their feet and show us what the manager has seen in them. Perhaps Angeleri is a full-back of real quality, who can then allow Onouha to play in his best position. Maybe Riveros is capable of imposing himself on Premier League games. I hope so, but I begin to worry that the money wasted over the past two seasons on a bloated squad of players who are not quite good enough means there are not funds avaiable now for players who are.
The approaching fixture list is not kind, and the five points dropped in a relatively gentle opening fortnight may yet prove very costly for Mr Bruce. At the end of October we play Newcastle. I hope that I am wrong, but if performances do not improve dramatically I can see us going into that game sitting close to the foot of the table with a points total that can be counted on one hand. Then, a defeat that day may well be Mr Bruce's last game in charge. The squad still needs, at minimum. a reliable left back, a a quality midfielder who can make things happen, and someone with physical presence up front to take the weight off Bent. Spending money now will prove less expensive than replacing the manager while still nevertheless being relegated later on. Time to get out the chequebook Niall.....
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