A big season ahead for Kieran Richardson? This and more thoughts as we turn to Richard Mason for some opinion!
As you have probably noticed, we've been working our connections to get some views on Sunderland's season ahead from the brightest journalists and personalities in the region. Let's face it, they're more important and respected than we are.
We've already had a couple of them, and now we move on to another sound fella and tremendous journalist, The Northern Echo's Richard Mason, who will be providing some excellent analysis of the forthcoming season.
Let's see what he has to say...As far as incomings this summer it's been relatively quiet round here. What have you made of Sunderland's business and what do you make of the potential names that have been linked to the club?
Richard Mason: First of all, hello. Thanks for inviting me back. I hope you all put money on my predictions after last year's success, where I managed to correctly predict that Steve Bruce would not be in the hotseat come the end of the season. Actually, it didn't really take Nostradamus to predict that, but I called it. You're welcome.
This close season has been the oddest in a long time, but I don't think that is exclusively a Sunderland thing. The Olympics have been such a massive, happy distraction that I think football has taken a back seat. Newspapers have to fill their columns with something, and during the fallow months it is usually speculation, conjecture and hearsay, but with the Olympics on we've had very little room for that. It's refreshing, actually. We all know that Sunderland need to strengthen, in particular up front and at left-back, but I reckon they have a fairly strong squad. A massive influx is not required.
There have also been plenty of outgoings, with big-earners such as Craig Gordon, George McCartney and so forth all departing, while the sale of Michael Turner raised a few eyebrows too. Are there any more players you feel are on the chopping block?
RM: Much was said about the need to reduce the wage bill, especially for those players who do not feature in Martin O'Neill's plans. So while I was disappointed Gordon left, if he is not in the plans, he needed to be moved on. Same goes for McCartney. It was a bit different for Michael Turner. O'Neill said he was part of his plans, but he wanted a longer contract, and O'Neill wasn't prepared to offer him that at the moment. As much as there have been departures, they still have a pretty large squad so if there is a club out there offering ready money for a player not involved in the first-team, I'd expect O'Neill to consider that.
To position yourself on the fringes of the world of fantasy for a moment, who do you think would be a dream signing for Sunderland in the next few weeks, although isn't that far removed from possibility?
RM: Fantasy? I'd have to say Fernando Llorente. I'm a big fan of his. Unfortunately for Sunderland, there's more chance of me beating Mo Farah in a run around the Stadium of Light than there is of Llorente rocking up on Wearside.
Over the summer there's been a bit of a change of style into a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation, although one of the main talking points has been wondering where Stephane Sessegnon fits into this. If you were the gaffer, where would you play him in order to get the best of him?
RM: It's difficult. You'd have to say that he wouldn't fit into a 4-3-3 unless he's out wide, and I'm not sure that's his best position. O'Neill's plan is to have two deep-lying midfielders in Colback and Cattermole, one further forward in Gardner or Vaughan, two players out wide - most likely McClean and Larsson with a central striker, which at the moment is Fraizer Campbell. I'd probably play a 4-4-1-1 which would involve dropping either Colback, Cattermole or Gardner/Vaughan.
Martin O'Neill starts his first full season as Sunderland boss after a mixed year last year. How do you see the season going? More like the early ‘glory' days or more like the post-FA Cup run of disappointment?
RM: I really don't know how it's going to go. Once the cup run ended Sunderland lost their focus. If they've got something to play for and O'Neill has them organised correctly, who knows? A good start is essential to set the tone.
There's a few players in the final year, or final two years of their contract at the club. For whom do you think this season it's crucial they begin to show their worth to the team and the fans?
RM: I think the players have shown what they can do on occasions. However, I do think that it's a big season for Kieran Richardson. He's been decent at left-back, but all too often his inconsistency comes into play. It's been the story of his career at Sunderland. Good game followed by bad game. He's got some work to do.
Time for some quick predictions if we could, and we'll start with your prediction for Player Of The Season, and why?
RM: Stephane Sessegnon again. Because he's Sunderland's X-Factor player. He's the player you look to to change a match. And more often than not he did that last season. There's no reason why he can't do that again.
And your prediction for Young Player Of The Season?
RM: I like the look of John Egan and Louis Laing whenever I've seen them, but I don't fancy their chances of getting many games next season. If O'Neill can't sign a striker, I see this being a big season for Ryan Noble, who has looked like a box of tricks in preseason.
Where do you think Sunderland will finish next season?
RM: Somewhere in the top ten, but outside of the European places. Another good cup run.
And finally, is this the year we claw back some of the bragging rights when it comes to them up the road. Can we beat Newcastle, and can we finish above them?
RM: Maybe you can! For all Newcastle's success last season, there was only one goal between the two sides head to head, so the derbies are as close as ever. I don't think Newcastle yet have the squad to maintain success domestically and in Europe, so there is a chance that Sunderland can finish higher. But it's a big ask.
Many thanks go out to Richard for answering our questions, and check out the coverage of all things North Easterly in The Northen Echo, online (here) and in print at all good newsagents. Also follow the man himself on Twitter @MasonEcho for more top notch sports chat.
Richard is running the Great North Run for the first time in aid of Centrepoint, who have a great hostel in Sunderland. They work with homeless young people and give them the tools they need to succeed. If you'd like to donate, you can do so by CLICKING HERE.