Sunderland 2017/18 Season Preview: Strengths, Weaknesses, Key Man and Predictions

Well, it's almost upon us. It's time to dust off the keyboard, throw out the David Moyes insult manual (just as well, it was becoming exceptionally worn), and start afresh. 

If only that were the case with Sunderland, as without even kicking a competitive ball the north east club seem to have already hit rock bottom, again. 

But as the Black Cats prepare to kick off their season this Friday against Derby County, it is only fair to take a look at what to expect over the coming nine months. 

1. Last Season

The less said about this atrocity the better, and if it were not for the minimum 40-word limit I would leave it there. However, unfortunately I cannot. 

New lows were found in the bowl of heartless apathy that was the Stadium of Light last season.

Moyes and his mercenaries mastered unexplored ways each week to leave the red and white army faithless, distraught and dejected. 

It was not so much as a disappointing season but an abomination to football, both on and off the field and everyone involved in that dressing room, and above, should still be suffering from sleepless nights regarding the shambolic embarrassment. 

Cheery start. 

2. Transfers In

Not only have there been additions on the pitch but also off it, with former Preston North End boss Simon Grayson placed at the helm as the man to guide Sunderland to stability after the disaster of the last campaign. 

So far it is hard to question the 47-year-old's business on such a tight budget, bringing in Premier League youth in the shape of Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway as well as experience in Aiden McGeady to top up the the already overspilling ex-Everton tank. 

It will please the Stadium of Light faithful that attacking recruitment has also been addressed, with the signings of penalty-maestro James Vaughan and Bournemouth's Lewis Grabban, but Grayson will be aware that there is still work to be done in this area of the pitch. 

3. Transfers Out

It came as no surprise to see the two shining lights in an otherwise blacked-out season for the Wearsides swiftly whisked away from the north east club in the opening month of the transfer window. 

Both Jermain Defoe and Jordan Pickford got moves back to Premier League, with the former exercising a clause in his contract to leave the club on a free transfer due to the Black Cats' relegation and the latter leaving his boyhood side for a record £30m fee to Everton. 

Vito Mannone also departed and there will no doubt be more before the end of August, with Jeremain Lens already touted for pastures new in the coming days. 

4. Strengths

It is difficult at this early stage of Grayson's tenure to see where Sunderland's strengths will lie, and after the club's below par pre-season you could argue the fact there are not many. 

However, one area of promise within the Wearsiders' ranks has to be the midfield, with the club being able to hold on and add to their already strong middle of the park. 

Lee Cattermole struggled due to long-term injury last term so will be expected to show more this time around and with Didier Ndong, Jack Rodwell, Darron Gibson (spelt correctly), McGeady and the returning Duncan Watmore all possessing skill levels of above average Championship players, it will be down to these select few to drive the Black Cats forward. 

5. Weaknesses

How long do you have? 

The centre-back pairing of Lamine Kone and any other central defender within the club seems to be more problematic than beneficial. 

The 28-year-old, who showed so much promise during his first six months at the north east club, has seemingly given up, meaning all that surround him are going to be in for a tough time as the games come thick and fast in England's second tier. 

The acquisition of Robbin Ruiter will hopefully address the clanger-magnet of Jason Steele in goal, however the Wearsiders are still short of attacking options, with neither Vaughan or Grabban holding prolific records in the Championship. 

6. Key Man

Again, another tough one to call with Grayson's transfer business certainly unfinished.

However, if all remains the same, Wahbi Khazri has to be the one the Black Cats can rely on. 

The Tunisia international's trickery, delivery and link-up play is to be admired even at the top level, so the 26-year-old should be a player that can set Sunderland's season alight without much effort in the second-tier. 

7. Predictions

Simply put, it is going to be another difficult season on Wearside. 

The chances of promotion are extremely slim, and considering the turmoil that still runs within the club a top 10 finish would be an achievement. 

Unlike fellow north east rivals Newcastle United and Middlesbrough, who have both spent considerable amounts of money in hope to spend just a single year outside the Premier League, with the first doing so successfully last season, Sunderland could be in for a trickier ride on such a tight budget. 

A mid-table finish is more realistic that the heights of promotion-talk and anyone who expects differently is extremely optimistic.

Predicted Finish: 10th.