Sunderland: 5 Storylines to Follow As This Season Draws to a Close
Sunderland Has Many Fronts to Fight Rest of the Way
A lot has changed for Sunderland since they kicked off their 2013-14 Barclays Premier League campaign on Aug. 17 against Fulham, with some negatives and some positives coming. On the one hand, Paolo Di Canio saw the axe after only five BPL matches--and only one point--but the introduction of Gus Poyet on a two-year deal has allowed Phil Bardsley to reemerge from the depths of being transfer listed and Adam Johnson has revived the form that led to Manchester City targeting him back in 2009.
All in all, things have surely taken a positive turn since Poyet took over as permanent manager, although after three wins in four BPL matches it may seem that an inevitable downturn is on the cards. Additionally, it must be admitted that at 14th out of 20 BPL teams, Sunderland is by no means a top of the table side at the moment, and the fact that these three victories came against Fulham, Stoke City and Newcastle United will damper any victory parades quite yet.
As always is the case, Sunderland face the inevitable questions that any team perennially stuck in the bottom half of the table does, and answers will surely come in the next three months. With this in mind, I have taken out to find and compose a list of the five biggest storylines that will surround Sunderland the rest of the BPL season. The way that each of these stories plays out could be the difference in the club taking a giant step forward heading into the summer or looking back at what could have been.
5. The Fight to Convince Ki Sung Yueng to Sign on Permanently
Over the summer Sunderland signed Ki Sung-Yeung on loan from Swansea City, with the option to buy the South Korean at the end of the season. With 2/3 of the season done, it is clear that Sung-Yeung will not only be wanted, but needed past the current season, as his comfort on the ball, rifle of a shot and assured tackling ability have provided Sunderland with a great asset in midfield. Convincing Sung-Yeung to stay with Sunderland will both help the club in future years and hurt a close rival in the BPL table.
4. Sunderland Looks to Win Domestic Silverware
Despite struggling in Barclays Premier League competitions, Sunderland have been magnificent in cup play, as they are in the Carling Cup Finals and the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. Advancing deep in these competitions has helped provide a spark at the Stadium of Light during an otherwise damp season, and winning one will ensure Europa League football next season. There is no doubt winning either would turn an otherwise poor season positive and provide the boost of European play when recruiting players for next season.
3. Jozy Altidore Looks to Find the Back of the Net
After watching Jozy Altidore score 23 goals in 21 games for AZ Alkmaar of the Eredivisie in 2012-13, it appeared that Sunderland were getting a bargain by paying $13 million for the striker. Unfortunately, Altidore has only scored one goal in 22 Barclays Premier League games this season, and he has not used his large frame and adequate speed to contribute much for teammates either. If the American does not get in the right frame of mind and start scoring goals, Sunderland may be forced to sell him in the summer for a fraction of the $13 million they paid AZ Alkmaar.
2. Sunderland Fight to Avoid Relegation
More importantly than any individual's output or cup competitions the rest of the season is that Sunderland are in the midst of a real relegation battle. Currently they only sit three points above West Ham at 17th in the BPL--and a spot to be relegated--and with a game remaining against each of the top seven teams in the table it is clear that points will not be easy to come by the rest of the way. An inability to avoid relegation could doom Sunderland for years to come, as we have seen with the likes of Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers in the past.
1. Gus Poyet Looks to Remain On as Manager Past the Summer
Gus Poyet was signed to a two-year deal when he took over as manager of Sunderland on Oct. 8, but history has shown us the extra year is more of a publicity stunt than anything else. If Poyet cannot continue to get Sunderland to progress on a positive path and avoid relegation at all costs, he will be out the door by season's end.