Are Sunderland good enough for Europe?

by Charlie Coffey

Thursday, November 11th, 2010
 

After seasons of mid-table mediocrity, Sunderland suddenly look like a team capable of reaching for the heights of Europe. Results at Anfield, and White Hart Lane on Tuesday, as well as their 0-0 draw to Manchester United and the 1-0 victory over City at home, suggest that Steve Bruce’s men are able to mix it with the big boys in the Premier League for the first time since their two consecutive seventh place finishes in 2000 and 2001.

As I see it they are now in direct competition with Everton for that coveted seventh place in the Premier League (and Europa League football), with Chelsea, United, Arsenal, City, Liverpool and Spurs ahead of them, probably in that order. As decent a side as Everton can be they always seem to struggle with injuries, and Sunderland are beginning to emulate their record of being strong at home and hard to beat away.

Some good business over the summer means that Bruce now has the squad to cope with injuries in key positions. Asamoah Gyan, who has scored three goals for Sunderland in the last four days, has proven more than capable of filling in for Darren Bent. Last season Sunderland were lucky enough to have Bent, who scored exactly half of their league goals (24 of their 48), fit to start all 38 matches, but such was their reliance on him Bruce knew he needed back-up. With Bent now side-lined with a hamstring injury, Bruce’s transfer has paid off, as has the board’s gamble to part with £13 million, the most they have ever spent on one player.

If Gyan can replace Bent at one end of the pitch, then Simon Mignolet has proved more than capable of filling in at the other. Craig Gordon’s broken arm in July meant that Bruce needed to find a replacement in the summer transfer window, and he did so by signing Belgium Under-21 keeper Mignolet from Sint-Truiden for an undisclosed fee, believed to be around £2m. In nine games Mignolet has kept four clean sheets and was man-of-the-match as Sunderland beat Man City. His job done, Mignolet might now have to be patient as reserve to Gordon after the Scot’s impressive comeback performance last night, but Bruce knows he can rely on him if needed.

Bruce’s one-striker system is working. He now has two strikers capable of playing up front on their own, an invaluable attribute in the modern game. Holding midfielder Lee Cattermole, who followed Bruce to Wearside from Wigan, said:

“We’re playing more 4-3-3 than 4-5-1, which we have in the past and never really managed to attack teams. We have pace in the side and players who love to get on the ball.

“The extra man in the middle is giving us the chance for an extra pass and we are playing good attacking football, but we also look pretty solid. It’s the sort of form that gets you into the top half of the table and we really should have beaten Man United.”

Like all Bruce sides any success is built on a sound defence. Another signing, Ahmed Al-Muhammadi, has been excellent, and has attracted the interest of Manchester United and Arsenal, although he has said he wants to stay with Sunderland, who have the option of paying £2 million to make his loan permanent at the end of the season. Bruce’s defensive approach was seen last night as he started with four natural centre-backs: Michael Turner, Anton Ferdinand, Nedum Onuoha and Titus Bramble (another summer signing who has impressed for the club so far). As a result Spurs were held to a draw at White Hart Lane, a feat that Inter Milan could not manage last week.

Bruce’s reputation as a manager is rising gradually if not spectacularly. He is a relatively young 49, and the start of this season is proof that given a he can be trusted with a budget. Whether the new, improved Sunderland can maintain their form is another question, but at present they look more than capable of a top seven finish.

Read Charlie Coffey’s brilliant blog at my11.com.

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  • http://Newsnow Georgethemackem

    We played Arsenal at the Stadium of Light and Ahmed Al-Muhammadi is a right winger!

  • Therumourma

    The answer to your question are Sunderland good enough to play in Europe my honest answer is no For two reasons firstly Europe has better drug testing and because there is energy drugs are being used Europe have e caught to players from Russia and they are watching. This is why Tottenham are struggling in the Premier leaugue. Secondly you where lucky with two decisions from Tottenhams bogy referee.

  • chef

    id drug test the mags before they test us lol
    they thump us and beat the arse then noshow against fat sam……..???
    as for the above comment
    luck is part of football and spurs goal was aided by a mit so alls fair in love and war and footy…….:O)
    as far as europe is concerned
    the squad is still gelling….and im sure he isnt finished tinkering…along with the egytian becks onhua and welbeck are loanies aswell so there are still areas to be adressed…
    we,d love someone else to chip in with agoal here or there…young campbell showed he could do that before he was crocked but since then weve needed folks like richard dunne to help us……:O)…….
    so were still a work in progress but were certainly moving ahead and the continent is defo on the horizon for us……….
    and dexy and darren i thought ud like to know this…….as you are aware i read ukff all the time ,but i actually found this piece on the sunderland message boards which has an absolute massive following so aload of folks are gonna be reading this article…….
    F.T.M……………….

  • Marc Sibbons

    Sunderland aren’t good enough for Europe, simple as. Although they have a decent squad, there are better teams such as Everton, Villa, Spurs who will finish higher.

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