Season preview: Sunderland

This might appear to have been a quiet off season for Sunderland, and given that last season they had an avowed fascist at the helm, a bit of being out of the limelight might not be an unwelcome thing for the Black Cats. All things being equal, Sunderland are a biggish club with good stadia, an impassioned fanbase and a proper, massive neighbor upon which to heap all its hatred (Newcastle). It has all the makings of a club that could be doing reasonably well in a league that includes such giants as Chelsea, Man U and Liverpool.

So for Paolo Di Canio to single handedly nearly torpedo the club took some doing. It was depressing stuff to see the man come in and utterly demoralize the team with his Il Duce inspired reign of terror. Thankfully, it was brief. In his place came a much sunnier character in the form of former Uruguayan international Gus Poyet. The former Tottenham defender managed to pull the players together and get them playing as a team, instilling the sort of siege mentality so successfully employed by the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. The Black Cats miraculously avoided the drop, and have seen not exactly a torrent but a steady trickle of decent talent come through the door over the summer transfer window.

Most notable among the new recruits is Jack Rodwell. The former Toffee (and then Man City bench warmer) had been viewed as quite the promising prospect, yet another well groomed professional off of the same assembly line that has given us the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley. Everton cashed in on him a few season back, but injuries and an inability to break into one of the deepest rosters in any team in any league of the world saw Rodwell fall well behind in the pecking order at City. I always liked the kid and hope he does well at the Black Cats, and he appears to have found his scoring boots already which bodes well for him and the fans at the Stadium of Light.

Other summer signings include the likes of Jordi Gomez (Wigan), Billy Jones (West Brom) and Costel Pantilimon (Man City), all on frees. It gives the impression that the coffers are not terribly deep when you are not merely padding the roster but recruiting first teamers on a shoestring, but you get the sense Poyet will keep them up. I’m predicting they finish in 14th come season’s end.

Season preview: Stoke City

Stoke City. Stoke-On-Trent. A city that, to anyone outside of the UK, would draw a funny look. “You live in Stoke? Like, permanently? Are there, like, waves? Cuz that would totally be appropriate, bro.”

Stoke is to the UK what Rochester is to the US. It’s a city of importance, but what that important thing might be none know, perhaps not even the natives. That being said, there is something vital, persistent and relentless about the place. The club is a reflection of the values of hard work, industry, tenacity. It is an unfashionable club in an unfashionable city. It is also, due to its rabid support, a miserable away date for most teams in the Premier League.

Big names play in Stoke. Or once big names. Names that were, at one time or another, attached to truly monster squads. Names like Charlie Adam, Peter Crouch, Steve Sidwell. Coach Mark “Sparky” Hughes has done wonders to extract vitality from former promising but ultimately mediocre players such as Steven Ireland (who is, coincidentally, truly Irish. And refuses to play for the Irish national squad. It’s a weird one).

Stoke have always been associated with a certain type of play. Namely, route one, punt ‘er up the field and let the big ‘un chase ‘er down. In the Tony Pulis era, Stoke were long ball merchants and pliers of the long throw in, thanks to the massive biceps of former midfielder Rory Delap.

This off season has seen a slightly different player coming through the doors. If you’d have told me back in May that the next club to sign Bojan Krkic would be Stoke, I’d have laughed at you. Well, I would have been wrong to do so. Somehow, Sparky has convinced the former Barcelona darling to do his thing at the Britannia, and there is no telling what this guy could bring to the table. The La Masia product has been extremely hit and miss over the last few years, but he is still capable of the fantastic. Merely his signature is a statement of intent from Mark Hughes. He wants to bring in a different style of play.

Keeping with the theme, Hughes has also brought in speedy winger Victor Moses from Chelsea (are they intending to loan their entire B team out?). Mame Biram Diouff has swapped the Red Devils for the Potteries, and the list goes on. You see a higher quality of player coming through the doors at the Potteries, and you have to wonder if this year does not mark a change in how people perceive Stoke City.

All of that being said, I’m expecting a bit of mid-table anonymity. 13th place for the Potters.

Season preview: Southhampton

Okay, so I lost a bit of forward momentum on this. So I’m gonna try to quickly get these all out and then we can move on with the punditry. The new season is here!!!

The new season is here indeed, and you get the feeling the Saints couldn’t be less excited about it. What happened at the Saints is the subject for a future blog, as there is much, much, much more going on there than meets the eye, beginning with last season’s departure of Nicola Cortese and stretching through a close season clearout that implies more than just, you know, squad rotation or whatever. The linked article on the subject is worth the read for all the scuttlebutt.

If it is true that owner Kathrina Liebherr is looking to sell the club this year and that she is looking to add value to the club in the form of capital additions (new training facilities, more seating in the stands, etc.), the Saints fans will endure a painful season indeed. The situation points toward owner being utterly disinterested in the club’s fortunes in any league or competition. This is business, and she is positioning her product (as she sees it) to sell. She would like it done while the team is in the Premier League as it adds value, but if they should drop before the sale (perhaps bringing down the market price some but not likely too much), then whatever. She just wants to bank the profit and leave.

So have some compassion for poor Saints boss Ronald Koeman. Into this mess he alights and must somehow find the formula to motivate his troops. The well reported transfer saga for Morgan Schneidelin has been tabloid fodder for weeks. The club has not attracted proper talent to fill the voids.

Spo without getting too sentimental (‘they’re a proper club… they have a wonderful academy…”), let’s just be honest here for a minute, shall we? This is a club in free fall. It ain’t pretty, it’s no fun, and it’s pretty much unavoidable, unless Liebherr finds a buyer quickly. It could happen – Southampton are, after all, a proper club!

But I don’t think so. Down to the Championship in 19th, and I’m afraid it is only the beginning of their woes.