Thursday, July 26, 2007

Premiership Preview--17. Sunderland

17. Championship winner Sunderland should acquit themselves better this time around in the Premiership then they did in their last season there (2005-2006) when they recorded just 15 points and were the joke of the league. Irish manager Roy Keane took over the reins a few games into the Championship season last year and turned what was a disatrous start into a promotion for the Wearside club.

The difference between Sunderland and the three teams below them could very well turn out to be the higher level of talent that Sunderland brought in this summer. Derby County, Birmingham, and Wigan didn't really improve their team; in fact, Wigan's team looks worse (at least on paper) than the side they put on the field last season. Sunderland acquired, amongst others, Kieran Richardson from Manchester United to give the team some pace and skill on the wing, fellow 22-year old Greg Halford, who's extremely versatile and should start in the back, and 23-year old striker Michael Chopra, who scored 22 goals in 42 league matches for Cardiff City last season. This infusion of youth will help provide some excitement and speed to a team that, if they can manage to stay up this season, should be on the rise and has the potential to be a better team down the road. By the same token, there's not a whole lot of players with considerable top-flight experience, other than Dwight Yorke and maybe Kieran Richardson. Young players are extremly susceptible to pressure and aren't as well-suited for competitive, high-level games as veterans are. If these players can grow up and mature on the fly, Sunderland should stay up.

Sunderland's schedule also sets up in a way that seems to give the club every chance to remain in the Premiership. December is the toughest month by far, with road games at Chelsea and Reading and home dates with Aston Villa, Bolton, and Manchester United. Their four games in April are all against mid-table teams, so 8-10 points wouldn't be unreasonable, and just 30 points from all of their previous games should mean safety for the Black Cats. The last two matches of the year could be make-or-break for Sunderland, with a trip to Bolton followed by a home match with Arsenal on the last day of the season.

Bottom Line-As I said before, if Sunderland's young players grow up and accept the pressure of playing in England's top flight, this club has the talent to stay up. Roy Keane is the type of manager who will get the best out of his players through whatever means necessary. His fiery personality should transfer itself onto his players and in the end, Sunderland will remain in the Premiership.

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