Breakdown, Preview and Predictions for Sunderland's 2012-13 Season

Ben ChodosCorrespondent IIAugust 9, 2012

Breakdown, Preview and Predictions for Sunderland's 2012-13 Season

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    Sunderland was a mid-table team that rarely did anything to make headlines last season, and the team will be looking to make more of an impact on the English Premier League this season.

    This will be their sixth consecutive year in the Premiership and manager Martin O'Neill has proven to be a capable coach in his two seasons with the club.

    The Black Cats did few things extremely poorly, but also did not particularly stand out in any single area. The ways in which O'Neill can try to play to his team's strengths and hide its weaknesses will covered in the next part of my previews of every EPL team.

    Here is my analysis of Sunderland's 2012-13 campaign.

Transfers In, Transfers out

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    Transfers In Transfers Out
    Carlos Jimenez Cuellar Nicklas Bendtner
      Michael Turner
      Marcos Angeleri
      Michael Liddle
      Jordan Cook
      Asamoah Gyan
      George McCartney
      Trevor Carson

     

    Key Additions

    Carlos Jimenez Cuellar

    Cuellar is the only summer signing for Martin O'Neill thus far. The former Aston Villa man is a capable and versatile defender.

    One of the several players to leave the Stadium of Light this summer was starting center back Michael Turner, and the 30-year-old Spaniard will be one of O'Neill's best options to replace him. 

    Given Sunderland's mediocre finish this past season and the lopsided ratio of players leaving to those arriving, supporters can only hope that a few more buys are in store before the transfer window closes.

    Key Depatutes

    Nicklas Bendtner

    Bendtner can certainly be a pain to deal with, given his ridiculous cockiness. He may falsely believe himself to be one of the best strikers in the world, but he certainly was the best forward on the Sunderland squad last season.

    The Dane led the Black Cats with eight goals last season, but was only with the team  temporarily and headed back to Arsenal after his loan was over. This leaves O'Neill with a concerning lack of options up front.

     

    Michael Turner

    While Cuellar should be an adequate replacement, switching center backs always comes with the risk of a learning curve. Sunderland will hope that this adjustment period does not last long.

    Turner played an important role for a Sunderland defense that was quite good last season, and this will look like a foolish move if the unit's form drops significantly.

Biggest Matches and Full Schedule

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    The full Sunderland schedule can be found via the team's website. Here are the must-see matches.

     

    at Arsenal, Saturday, August 18

    The season opener is always an important match, but Sunderland will have the opportunity to knock off one the Premier League's best teams in their first outing.

    In all likelihood, the Black Cats will not be able to earn points in this match, but a victory or even a tie could light a spark that fuels the team for the next several games.

    Sunderland did defeat the Gunners in the FA Cup last season, and Martin O'Neill will have a blueprint for how to attack Arsene Wenger's side. If the team can execute his plan successfully, this will be a fantastic way to start the season.

     

    at Manchester United, Saturday, December 15

    It is possible that three of the four defenders for Sunderland in this match will be former Manchester United Players.

    John O'Shea, Wes Brown and Kieran Richardson all spent several seasons with the Red Devils. This will be a strange day for them as they head to the visitor's locker room at Old Trafford.

    Their time practicing against United's potent attackers may give them a better chance to keep player's like Wayne Rooney out of the back of the net. This is another match with the potential to be a signature win for Sunderland.

     

    at Newcastle, Saturday, April 13

    The second leg of the Tyne-Wear derby will be of vital importance for Sunderland due to its place in the schedule.

    The Black Cats will have just five league matches remaining after the whistle blows in this game, and a victory could set the tone for how they finish the season. A strong performance in the final month of the year could give the team its best finish in recent memory.

    This will likely be a chippy affair, and if the squad can prevail over its rivals, it will be in excellent position to jump up a few spots on the table. 

Key Players

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    Stéphane Sessegnon

    The 28-year-old attacking midfielder was a bright spot in Sunderland's attack last season, recording seven goals and nine assists.

    Now that Nicklas Bendtner is no longer on the squad and no other attackers have been brought in, even more will be required from him. He will have to continue to be the team's best distributor while also upping his scoring production.

    Much will be asked of Sessegnon this next season, but he will also have a chance to shine as the central focus of the squad's attack.

     

    Sebastian Larsson 

    Larsson is a talented player who will also be called upon to step up with Bendtner gone.

    He attacks teams from the touchline and has a chance to truly make a name for himself this season. He scored seven goals and had two assists this past season.

    Larsson strikes the ball extremely well, and he will have to be particularly sharp in the attacking third of the field, as he and Sessegnon will be receiving extra attention to go along with their increased responsibilities. 

    This will be a sink-or-swim season for the 27-year-old and Sunderland supporters can only hope he will repsond positively to the opportunity.

     

    John O'Shea

    O'Shea's ability to play center or right back effectively allows him to be one of the most called-upon players in the Sunderland squad, and he made 29 league appearances.

    He will be a major contributor to the defense once again this season, and his form will be vital to the team's success in the back. If he can continue to move around and mark opposing players at a high level, the Black Cats will be able to avoid the bottom of the table.

    The former Manchester United man is now at a club where he can play in nearly every match, and his quiet consistency will be a key part to Sunderland's season.

Strengths

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    Defensive Versatility

    Sunderland turned in an all-around sold performance defensively last season.

    The team allowed just 46 goals last season, which tied it with Chelsea for the fifth-lowest total in the Premier League. 

    A number of players, such as John O'Shea, Kieran Richardson and Phillip Bardsley are capable of playing multiple positions effectively. This allows Martin O'Neill to keep a solid lineup at the back in every match. 

    The team led the league with 21.7 tackles per game, as there were always a high number of players on the pitch willing to get stuck in and win the ball.

    Note: statistics courtesy of Whoscored.com.

     

    Attacking on the Wings

    Sebastian Larsson's role on the team will be important, but left midfielder James McLean also has the potential for a breakout season.

    The 23-year-old Irishman put in five goals and dished out two assists last season. With a talented player on each wing, Sunderland's primary focus in the attack will be to get the ball out wide.

    Both Larsson and McLean are more than capable of beating their mark in one-on-one situations and getting the ball in to the box. The concern for the Black Cats will be if someone is there to do something with their passes.

    Still, the team's strength in the attack is clearly on the wing, and these player's skills will allow the man who eventually earns the center forward role to have an easier time transitioning to the starting lineup. 

Weaknesses

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    Possession

    While Sunderland is generally a well-balanced team, it does struggle to hold on to the ball.

    The possession statistics do not reflect positively on the team's decision-making, as they kept the ball just 44.1 percent of the time, ranking 17th across the EPL—and completed just 74.7 percent of their passes, which was the 15th best mark.

    The Black Cats' inability to retain possession limited their scoring opportunities, and the finished 17th in the Premiership with 12.1 shots per game. 

    Without an established center forward on the squad as of now, the team should look to settle the ball on the ground more and create chances for the midfielders. 

     

    Inexperience at Striker

    With Nicklas Bendtner and Asamoah Gyan gone, the team has several questionable options to fill the No. 9 role.

    Ji Dong-Won may be the favorite to take over after having a solid showing for South Korea in the Olympics. Ji started just two Premier League matches last season, but he did make 17 appearances as a substitute and recorded two goals and two assists. 

    Connor Wickham is another young talent who could fill in well, and Fraizer Campbell is the other striker on the roster. 

    None of these players are proven, and there will be many questions surrounding the team's forwards heading into the season. 

Prediction for 2012-13

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    Wins: 12

    Losses: 12

    Draws: 14

    Points: 48

    Place: 11th

     

    Martin O'Neill has his team's attention and Sunderland is solid enough to stay well away from relegation danger.

    However, the team is not one that will strike fear in its opponents and is unlikely finish in the top half of the table.

    The talent on the roster right now will limit the Black Cats to a mid-table finish. Unless they make a significant upgrade in one of the transfer windows, they will not be giving their supporters much to cheer about.

    This will not be a season to remember for Sunderland, as mediocrity will be the name of their game.