Sunderland raised eyebrows last year with an incredible turnaround that saw them take four wins from their last five matches to ensure a 14th-place finish in the 2013/14 Premier League campaign.
Along the way the Black Cats took down a number of victims including including Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, brining Jose Mourinho’s home League winstreak to a halt. This season Gus Poyet’s men have enjoyed mild success in the transfer market acquiring goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon and midfielder Jack Rodwell from Manchester City, as well as highly-rated left back Patrick van Aanholt from Chelsea.
[Related: Full PL season preview]
Transfers In: Jack Rodwell ($15 million from Manchester City), Patrick van Aanholt ($3.5 million from Chelsea), Costel Pantilimon (free from Manchester City), Billy Jones (free from West Brom), Jordi Gomez (free from Wigan)
Transfers Out: Ignacio Scocco ($6 million to Newells), Carlos Cuellar (unsigned), Jack Colback (free to Newcastle), Craig Gardner (free to West Brom), Phil Bardsley (free to Stoke City), Andrea Dossena (unsigned), El-Hadja Ba (free to Bastia), Keiren Westwood (free to Sheffield Wednesday)
Last Season: After Paolo Di Canio put Sunderland bottom of the league with just one point from seven matches, Gus Poyet rescued the Black Cats from relegation helping them finish 14th in the table, three points clear of the drop. An uplifting first season for both Poyet and the Wearside fans.
Despite another injury-riddled season last year, Fletcher remains the Black Cats best weapon. Slick on the ball, quick on the turn and clinical in front of net, Fletcher is a player Sunderland need to be healthy if success is in the cards for this year. Now healthy, look for Fletcher to join Connor Wickham or Jozy Altidore in leading the line this season. Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherrini are two other key players to the attacking fold, both of whom enjoyed strong seasons last year but will need to step up even more for the departed loan-man, Fabio Borini.
Coach’s Corner: Gus Poyet
As noted, Poyet manufactured a stunning escape from relegation righting the ship after a tumultuous start under Di Canio. Intelligent and mild mannered, Poyet has the feel of a real player’s player.
PST Predicts: If Sunderland are to avoid another season in the relegation race the Black Cats need to acquire some new talent. An aging backline could use an injection of youth while the attack, which mustered only 41 goals last season, desperately needs at least one playmaker to replace the departed Borini.