Quick Reminder, Real Life
What started brightly with a forward line of DBent, Gyan, and Campbell came closer to the relegation zone than anyone who watched the first half of the season or looked at the final standings would ever have guessed. February, March, and the first half of April were an unmitigated disaster with the club earning exactly 1 point between Feb 1 and April 16. If you’re looking for causes, the sale of talisman Darren Bent to Villa combined with an injury to Campbell and a lack of many additional attacking options were a big root cause. A solid run from mid-April through the end of the season that saw them win three of their five matches saved their bacon and even got them a nice-looking 10th place finish despite their miserable run.
Quick Reminder, Fantasy
Darren Bent was Darren Bent when he was there (leading one to wonder why they agreed to sell him to a non-"big" team or why DBent wanted to go). Gyan was OK but nothing great. Bardsley had a nice fantasy season that ended with some big matches in the second half despite Sunderland’s generally miserable play in the real world. Otherwise, it was a bit of a fantasy wasteland at the Stadium of Light, highlighted by Sessegnon's never making it into the sytsem! Just to give you an idea of how bad, most of Sunderland’s first page of options in Yahoo are players new to the team. Jordan Henderson had a solid fantasy season but certainly not one that helps explain the price Liverpool were willing to pay for him.
- Larsson Learned - Outside of the forwards that started the season healthy, Sunderland didn’t have much attacking creativity last season. In comes Seb Larsson to see if he can add some juice to Sunderland’s wide play. It certainly can’t hurt.
- The Next ? - I think Sunderland got themselves a great buy in Connor Wickham but despite the fact that people have been praising him for the last couple seasons he hasn’t managed to acquire a “Next Someone” tag. If he becomes the next James Beattie then I guess I’ll be wrong about it being a good buy. If he ends up as the next Andy Carroll then I’ll be dead on. Somewhere in-between and Sunderland will still be pretty happy with both the player and the investment.
- Getting the Band(s) Back Together - It never really surprises us when a manager goes back to an old employer to bring players into his squad and no one is more guilty of this than Steve Bruce who went back to former employers Birmingham (for the aforementioned Larsson and Craig Gardner) and Manchester United (for John O’Shea and Wes Brown). All are upgrades but one wonders if Bruce would do better to look to clubs he hasn’t worked for/managed for talent occasionally.
- One Really Good Signing - David Vaughn was quietly one of the forces behind Blackpool’s season. Charlie Adam got most of the headlines but Vaughn got a lot of credit from people who watch the game closely. A strong alternative to Lee Catermole who can also play on the left and behind the strikers if needs be. A rare case of Bruce buying a player whose game is better than his reputation.
- The Departed - Jeremy’s soccer crush Jordan Henderson left the Stadium of Light to join the very expensive, very full Liverpool central midfield crowd. While we don’t expect too much from him at Anfield due to the competition for places he was one of Sunderland’s better players and one of the few with big upside.
- The Bishop - I’m sure he won’t play much but it’s my chance to use my favorite nickname of this or any other Premier League season Bishop Magic Dong-Won. I’m referring of course to forward Dong-Won Ji who joins from vaunted club Chunnam Dragons. Good times.
2011-12 Outlook, Real Life
It feels like every season brings us 8 or 9 changes to the roster at Sunderland without the results ever really changing much. If you’re an agent or a lawyer associated with the club, this is great news. Ditto if you’re writing a blog and there isn’t much going on with the big clubs during the summer. You can certainly look at the moves Sunderland made and talk yourself into being excited about them. Throw in potential regressions from Villa, Everton, and Fulham and you could see an 8th place finish as their likely upside with 12th as their downside. The more things change...
Probable Starting XI
Mignolet, Bardsley, Richardson, Ferdinand, Brown, Colback, Larsson, Cattermole, Gardner, Gyan, Sessegnon (note: it's probaably a close run thing between Ferdinand, Brown, Turner and Bramble for the two center-back spots. The latter two are coming back from injury so it remains to be seen how it shakes out.)
2011-12 Scouting Report, Yahoo Fantasy
- Fantasy Gold - Sorry, no fantasy gold here - Larsson has the best chance to stake a claim though moving from strong output on a really bad attacking team at Birmingham to (hopefully) slightly better fantasy output on a team that scored 20% more goals than the Blues.
- On The Rise - Every season a variety of factors create opportunities for value buying in the Yahoo! game:
- Sessegnon (relative newcomer) has finally been added to the Yahoo game after a mere 4 or 5 months on the roster. He has looked good in the pre-season and will likely be playing as a second forward while being listed as a midfielder. Worth a look when Sunderland are at home.
- Brown (larger role) has slipped further and further out of the picture at United over the past few years which hasn’t helped his fantasy value much either. Even a Phil Neville-like move away would justifying picking Brown at his current price of 3.02. I doubt he’ll be good for much more than 5 or 6 points a match but at least early in the season at a cost of 3, that might be well worth it to enable other things.
- Bellamy? (back from the dead Man City’s bench) could be the answer to the need for another attacking force. A rotation of Gyan, Sessegnon, Wickham, and Bellamy with Larsson wide and Gardner going box-to-box actually sounds relatively potent. Not great but certainly the equal of everyone below last season’s top six.
- Traps - Gyan is a bit overpriced based on a strong last game of the season. His production has been extremely hit and miss. I’d love Gyan at 8 or so but at over 10 he’d have to be playing at home against pretty lousy competition.
2011-12 Outlook, Official PL Fantasy
Studs: Sessegnon and Larsson are both 6.5M rated midfielders and both have the potential to produce 100+ point stud returns. Sessegnon has been played as a second striker in the pre-season and if he starts just off Gyan’s shoulder, could really benefit from the space freed up when Gyan attracts defender. He’s a bit of an unknown quantity in the league, so tread with caution, but something like 6-7 goals and 6-7 assists would be a very strong return for a 6.5M player. Seb Larsson has been around the block in the league and is a set piece specialist. He’s always good for 5 goals and 5 assists, and can be a relatively reliable 4th or 5th midfielder when on form and with good fixtures.
Duds: Stay away from Ahmed Elmohamady despite his high 100+ point total from last season. It’s deceiving. ‘Elmo’ was classified as a defender last year in the Official PL game and thus benefited from 11 clean sheets. He’ll lose those 44 points (11 x 4 for a clean sheet) this year as a midfielder so even though he is just 5.5M I wouldn’t purchase him. Spend the 1M more and go with Larsson or Sessegnon for more offensive production.
On the fence: Gyan is now 8M and he’ll need to step up big this season with increased competition and a new look strike-force around him. He managed 10 goals and 5 assists last season and I expect similar numbers this time around - perhaps an improvement of 2-3 goals to 12-13. With Odemwingie, Rodallega, Kevin Davies, and Kenwyne Jones all cheaper - some significantly cheaper, it will take a 12-16 goal season for fantasy managers to really get value from Gyan. Manager Steve Bruce believes he can get 20, but I’m on the fence for now. Still a good purchase but plenty of strikers in the game priced a bit lower with proven scoring records as well.