Sunderland haven’t finished in the top half of the Premier League table since the 2010/11 season when they finished 10th. The Premier League began in 1992 and the Black Cats have been relegated three times during that period. Here are the reasons why I believe they will be relegated for the fourth time this season.
1. Poor recruitment in the summer
David Moyes was appointed as Sunderland’s new manager in July on a four-year deal. During the summer transfer window, he signed five players: Didier Ndong, Papy Djilobodji, Donald Love, Paddy McNair and Mika. 34-year-old Steven Pienaar joined on a free transfer while Man United’s Adnan Januzaj and Man City’s Jason Denayer were brought in on season-long loans. Moyes also signed free agent Victor Anichebe until the end of the season.
None of these are convincing signings for a team caught in a perpetual relegation battle. Papy Djilobodji was signed by Chelsea for £4m in last season’s transfer window and he made just one substitute appearance for the Blues, in the League Cup, before spending the second half of last season on loan at Werder Bremen. Djilobodji was Moyes’ first signing and Sunderland paid £8m for him, double what Chelsea did, making him Sunderland’s joint-most expensive defender in history. What on earth possessed Sunderland to spend so much money on him?
Sunderland faced Tottenham in September and although Spurs were the better team, they were unable to get past Jordan Pickford who had a brilliant game in goal, that was until the 59th minute when Papy Djilobodji failed to clear a Dele Alli header allowing Kane to poke home from close range. That one mistake cost Sunderland what would have been a valuable point. Djilobodji is too much of a liability. 21-year-olds Donald Love and Paddy McNair could prove to be good signings but it will take time for them to get to that level, time that David Moyes does not have. Yann M’Vila, a key player in Sunderland’s relegation battle last season when he was on loan, was desperate to sign for the club on a permanent basis during the summer transfer window but the move fell through leaving him “heartbroken.”
2. All other teams have progressed
Sunderland have been rooted to the bottom of the table since they lost 3-2 at home to Crystal Palace on 24th September. All the other teams around them have made significant improvements. While Sunderland are yet to win a Premier League match this season, the newly promoted sides, Burnley, Hull and Middlesbrough have a total of six wins between the three of them. Burnley broke their transfer record twice this summer because they have learnt from the mistakes they made in the 2014/15 season. Hull City also broke their transfer record and caused reigning champions Leicester City to suffer a shock defeat on the opening day of the season.
As for Middlesbrough, their first win of the campaign was against Sunderland and led to David Moyes admitting that his side would be in yet another relegation battle. Even if it is true, no fan wants to hear their manager confirm their worst fears. David Moyes could make some shrewd signings in January that turn Sunderland’s season around, if he is still there, but it might be too late by that point.
3. The fight for Premier League survival always begins towards the end of the season
Sunderland have not won any of their opening five Premier League games for the fourth consecutive season. They only start to play well when they are faced with relegation which must be infuriating for their fans. Their good results against so called big teams usually occur towards the end of the season. When the Black Cats played Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in December 2015, they were beaten 3-1. Then when the two sides met again in April, a goalless draw secured Sunderland’s Premier League survival.
Another example is in December 2015, when Sunderland played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and lost 3-1. However, when Chelsea came to the Stadium of Light in May 2016, Sunderland won 3-2 with Jermain Defoe scoring the winner. In the 2013/14 season, Sunderland became one of only three clubs to have avoided relegation from the Premier League after being bottom at Christmas. If the team started the season well for once, they would not be under so much pressure to perform in the final months of the season.
4. Only one consistent striker
Sunderland are incredibly reliant on 34-year-old Jermain Defoe. He scored 15 Premier League goals for them last season and was instrumental in their fight for survival but if he gets injured, Sunderland do not have many other options. Fabio Borini, Adnan Januzaj and Seb Larsson, Sunderland’s best attacking options besides Jermain Defoe are currently out injured. Free agent Victor Anichebe has made two substitute appearances in the Premier League but the striker will probably be remembered more for his embarrassing tweet than anything else he does at Sunderland this season.
Duncan Watmore is a promising prospect and scored three Premier League goals in his debut season. He has made six starts in nine games so far this season, compared to last season where he made seven starts in 23 games. Watmore is getting a lot more game time because of Sunderland’s lack of attacking options but he is still only 22 and needs time to fully develop.
Sunderland have only been victorious twice this season and both of those wins came in the EFL Cup but after a 1-0 defeat against Southampton in the fourth round of the competition, their only focus is now the Premier League. Their next three matches are against Arsenal, Bournemouth and Hull. They have to win at least one of these to get their season started because the longer they wait for a win, the less likely it is to come. Aston Villa were down by April last season and if Sunderland don’t pull themselves together they could be relegated even sooner. I think last season was one “Great Escape” too many and the Championship is the most likely destination for the Black Cats.
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