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Sunderland will struggle

There may be trouble ahead for Roy Keane’s much-vaunted Sunderland revolution.

Tony Cascarino, 16 Aug 2007

I know a lot of Irish people are looking forward to following Sunderland this season in the Premiership, but I’m afraid the best they can look forward to is Roy Keane saving them from the drop.

Even if he succeeds in his stated task of bringing in three biggish guns before the transfer deadline, there are too many members of the squad with either no Premiership experience or who haven't cut it at that level – like David Connolly.

David’s a decent enough predator, but he’s no ball winner and desperately needs a big, mobile number 9 playing alongside him.

Much of Reading’s success last year was down to having two great headers of the ball in Doyle and Kitson. Every time there was a cross or a set-piece they were there to stick their head in whereas Sunderland don’t possess a significant aerial threat.

If I was the manager of a rival team, I’d be able to tell my players exactly what to expect from the Sunderland forward line. I can see John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho smoking cigars when they entertain the Black Cats for the first time at Stamford Bridge on December 8th.

The modern game doesn’t allow clubs like Sunderland to be competitive. Someone like Paul McShane might decide to go to the Stadium of Light because Roy Keane’s an Irish footballing legend who he worshipped as a kid, but all that matters to your average player is how much money he’s going to earn a week.

There’s also a marked reluctance among players – especially non-English ones – to go to a city like Sunderland or Middlesbrough that’s perceived as being grim and unglamorous. They're no worse than the neighborhoods that West Ham or my old club Milwall are in, but London will always have more allure.

Fortunately for Sunderland, you’ve got Birmingham and Derby with even weaker squads, Wigan haemorrhaging their best players and Sven-Goran Eriksson blowing his transfer budget on foreigners who’ve never set foot in the Premiership and may or may not be suited to the English game.

With so many new arrivals and just a week to the big kick-off, him and his coaching staff have really got their work cut out.

At the other end of the table, it’s evident from their summer signings that Manchester United have given up trying to find a replacement for Ruud van Nistelrooy, and will be all about movement and players inter-changing like Barcelona. Despite the quality of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney, I still think they need an old-fashioned centre-forward other than Saha who’s never going to play more than 30 games a season.

I’ve a hunch that Alex Ferguson’s priorities this year will switch from the Premiership to the Champions’ League, while Rafael Benitez will go the other way and do everything he can to win the league or risk losing his job.

He has to start the season with Kuyt and Crouch, and make Torres force his way into the team because a £24 million price tag doesn’t automatically mean you’re ready to play 90 minutes in the Premiership. Let him come off the bench and show what he’s capable of.

The same goes for Tottenham who’ve spent big money on Darren Bent, but should be mindful that the Premiership’s best attacking partnership last season was Keane and Berbatov.

If he chops and changes I can see Robbie suffering because to be at the top of his game he needs 90 minutes week in, week out. If either of them suffer a dip in form bring Bent in, otherwise keep things as they are. White Hart Lane eyes will also be on Paul Robinson who was poor last season and could be the difference between a Champions’ League and a UEFA Cup spot.

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