Can Sunderland Continue to Avoid Relegation?
Sunderland has had close calls in the relegation race for each of the past four seasons in the English Premier League.
The Black Cats have not finished with more than 39 points in any of these four years, but they have somehow managed to stay up in the EPL nonetheless.
Can we expect to see them avoid the drop yet again this season, or will their luck finally run out?
Last Season Wasn't as Bad as It Looked
Last season, Sunderland finished 17th in the league, only two points ahead of the relegated Newcastle, who finished in 18th. However, the numbers tell us that Sam Allardyce's old team might not have been quite as bad as their place in the standings would indicate.
Sunderland's goal differential last season was "only" -14, which is actually a full six goals better than any of the teams that were relegated. In fact, their -14 goal difference was tied with Stoke City and West Brom for 13th-best in the league, so perhaps the Black Cats got a tad unlucky last season.
This tells us that, even though their team will probably look similar to how it did last season, their chances of staying up this year might actually be pretty good.
One area where Sunderland seems to have an advantage over the other relegation contenders in the EPL is at manager. Sam Allardyce did a great job helping Sunderland avoid relegation last year, but he has moved on to manage the English National Team. David Moyes was appointed as his replacement.
Moyes will be remembered for his failures in brief stints at Manchester United and Real Sociedad, but he was a great manager at Everton for over a decade.
Moyes won the LMA Manager of the Year Award three times with Everton, and he helped them finish in sixth place in the EPL in his final season with the club. Sunderland certainly have a leg up at manager compared to most of the other teams battling to avoid relegation.
Central defender Lamine Kone is perhaps Sunderland's best player, as he finished in the top five on the team in interceptions, clearances, blocks, and aerials won last season. Kone also scored two goals against Everton in the second to last game of the season, which helped Sunderland avoid relegation.
He had such a great year last season that he is now being pursued by other Premier League teams, but it seems unlikely that Sunderland will sell their star player.
On the offensive end, Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe also had an incredible year last season, as he finished tied for seventh in the league in goals scored with 15. Defoe is 33 years old, so there is some question as to whether or not he can keep up that production, but even if he doesn't quite match last year's numbers, it is nice to have a player with his track record.
Sunderland have yet to lose any key players from last season, but that could still change. The Black Cats are in danger of losing Yann M'Vila and DeAndre Yedlin, who both played key roles while they were on loan to the club last season. The duo combined to play over 5,000 minutes for Sunderland during the 2015-16 campaign, and it would be very difficult to find quality replacement players with such little time left before the season starts.
The good news here is that, with Moyes appointed as manager, the odds of these two starters returning should increase. Keeping both of these players will be key to Sunderland's success this season.
Sunderland has yet to make any signings during the transfer window thus far, and we are less than three weeks away from the season. There are reports that they are close to a deal for Manchester United's Will Keane, but nothing is official yet. Moyes is also interested in getting another Manchester United player, Adnan Januzaj, on loan. Both signings would be good moves for Sunderland, as they need some players who can create and score goals in case Defoe experiences a drop off in production.
Once again, Sunderland looks like they're going to be in a relegation battle, but it's still a battle they have a very good chance of winning.
They have a good manager, they have some talented players, and they have the uncanny ability to avoid finishing in the bottom three.
Don't be surprised if the Black Cats manage to stay up once again.