Oh, Sunderland! How are we going to evaluate what kind of team you will be in 2013/14? Who are you, how will Di Canio change you? Will the Italian even see out the season? So many questions and all we can do is project and grope about blindly at what may happen.
First of all, let's take a look back at what happened last season.
2012/13 Numbers League Position 17th Shot Dom Rank 19th Shots on Target Dom Rank 19th PDO 5th (103.7)
Some of these numbers don't really do justice to how horrendously terrible Martin O'Neill's team was in the first third of the season. Sunderland were out-shot heavily, out-chanced heavily and, frankly, were lucky to have retained their PL status in 2012/13.
Here we see Sunderland's rolling SoTR and PDO:
It wasn't until game 17 that Sunderland broke the 40% barrier in terms of SoTR (par is 50%). During that early season run it was Sunderland's PDO that was keeping them afloat and likely off of the bottom of the table.
Now, it was clear to me that firing O'Neill was the correct decision- hell, the Northern Irishman should have been fired six games into the season. Any team that posts 1shot on target or less in nine of it's thirty eight games is a team that is clearly out-matched both in talent and tactics.
O'Neill was correctly fired, Di Canio was hired in his stead. The Italian only had a short amount of time to work with his new charges and although he didn't improve Sunderland's underlying numbers, he achieved the most important thing, that of PL safety.
Di Canio has made TEN new signings, and quite honestly, this was necessary. Sunderland's squad required quality and some depth and it appears Di Canio has addressed this.
IN Czech defender Celustka has joined on loan, Giacherrini, somehow, was convinced to join Sunderland in a £7.5m deal and Jozy Altidore was signed for £10m and he should give Sunderland some much needed help up front. Vito Mannone was signed from Arsenal as the #1 'keeper.
There are some nice pieces here. Altidore and Giaccherini should aid Sunderland's underwhelming attack and Mannone should be a capable goalie. I was pretty sure that Di Canio would fix what I though was Sunderland's most pressing team need, midfield. But as of the time of writing, it appears that the club is happy to stick with what it has. Creativity and the ability to retain the ball in midfield could be an issue once more.
Danny Graham has departed on loan, Danny Rose has returned to his parent club and Elmohamady, Bramble and Maclean are also gone. But it is the loss of Mignolet which may hurt Sunderland the most. At times last season Mignolet was superb and looked like an elite level 'keeper. Will his absence harm Sunderland? I guess it depends on Mannone's ability to play a full PL season as a #1, but I would guess that Mignolet will be dearly missed.
Beneath the crazed veneer and intense stare is an intelligent man and good football coach. But can DI Canio communicate his message to the players, and if he can, are these players good enough to execute that message?
I like Di Canio and I will be rooting for him, but one gets the feeling that some form of chaos is always bubbling away under the surface. Is Di Canio too hard with his players? How will he behave with the press corps? What will happen if Sunderland go on a bad run in terms of results? Will that passion and intensity, which was so beloved late last season, twist and become tiresome if the results aren't positive?
These are just some of the questions we can reasonably ask of Di Canio in what will be his first full top flight season. My biggest question - and it may be the most important - is can Di Canio improve one of the worst shots +/- teams around? Another season of being butchered in the shots count will place Sunderland pretty close to being relegated.
Reasons For Optimism
Di Canio and his coaching brain. A full pre-season should be plenty time for Di Canio to implement a superior tactical scheme to the one we saw last season.
Giaccherini and Altidore should add some much goals and creativity.
Sessegnon is still at the club.
A return to some sort of fitness for Brown and Cattermole will help too.
Strike force. Fletcher, Sessegnon, Altidore and Wickham should, in theory, score enough goals with Johnson and Giaccherini providing the service.
Reasons For Pessimism
This team was bad last year. Sunderland were heavily out-shot and it remains unclear whether Di Canio can fix that.
Lack of Midfield quality. Cattermole, Gardiner, Colback, Cabral, and maybe Larsson, doesn't sound like a midfield that is strong enough to control the play.
How much will Mignolet be missed. It's clear that Mannone isn't t the same level as Mignolet, but how much worse is the Italian? 5 or 6 goals? If Mannone struggles, Westwood may be brought in.
There's talk of Di Canio changing Sunderland's style and playing out from the back and to feet. A change had to be made after last season's performances, but do Sunderland have the personnel in the full back and midfield areas to play a quick, short passing game? [No. - Editor Knut]
Ha! Really? This is a lottery. Di Canio could succeed in the North East with a new tactical set-up that his players really buy into and this would result in a lower mid table finish. If his methods don't succeed or his players aren't able to perform up to his standards, then Di Canio could be under pressure, he could go to war with his players and himself and only God knows what the outcome of that would be.
Could be a relative success, or could fail to see out the season.
I think Sunderland could struggle if the bets on Altidore and Giaccherini don't come good.
Article by Ben Pugsley