FPL Preview: Sunderland

Sunderland

Sunderland just managed to avoid relegation last year, requiring another late season surge to finish just three points above the relegation zone. The “Black Cats” didn’t clinch survival until the penultimate week of the season, and their fans would love it if they could have a less tense final few games this season.

This summer, Sunderland have added just two players; with Sebastian Coates coming in on a permanent deal from Liverpool, having been on loan last season; and Adam Matthews, a Welsh right back, coming in from Celtic. Sunderland have put together a solid midfield and striking group in the last couple of years and Advocaat showed he wasn’t afraid to use his attacking option on the field at the same time last season in the search for goals. They have had nobody leave this summer, but potentially they could lose their main player Adam Johnson for a variable amount of time due to legal issues.

Early Fixtures Outlook: @ Leicester, vs Norwich, vs Swansea, @ Aston Villa, vs Tottenham, @ Bournemouth

This looks like a really nice start for Sunderland, who will be hoping that they can get off to a decent start this season so they aren’t scrambling for points in the last couple of months. With two newly-promoted teams and then two teams who finished in the bottom seven, Sunderland will be hoping they can come out of the first month and a half with at least half a dozen points. If they can get that off those four teams then the games against Tottenham and Swansea will be looked at as bonus games. For a fantasy outlook there is plenty of opportunity against Norwich, Bournemouth, Leicester and Villa for both the defenders and strikers to get off to good starts.

Goalkeeper Outlook: Costal Pantilimon £5m

Pantilimon had to wait for his opportunity last season as Gus Poyet stuck with Vito Mannone to start the season. What that meant was that Pantilimon had just 28 games as a starter last year, but amazingly he ended the season as the sixth ranked goalkeeper on the official FPL game. He kept 11 clean sheets in those 28 games and averaged 3.8 saves per game in racking up 123 fantasy points. Going into this season Sunderland have a similar looking defence so I expect he could keep 10 clean sheets again this season, and is a perfect option at £5m to use in a match-up rotation with the likes of Mignolet, Adrian or Fabianski.

Defence

Stud: Patrick van Aanholt £5m

van Aanholt had an injury hit season in his first full season in the Premier League, having spent the previous season on loan at Vitesse before his move to Sunderland from Chelsea. In total he only managed to appear in 28 games out the 38, but his performance in those games was highly promising. Playing as the main left back for the side he had five assists. Which, considering he only made 10 crosses is actually a decent return. Hopefully this season under Advocaat he can get forward more and put more crosses in the box, because that combined with the number of clean sheets Sunderland kept last year could propel van Aanholt into the ranks of the elite defenders.

Sleeper: John O’Shea £4.5m

O’Shea was the top scoring defender for the Black Cat’s last season mainly because he played over 3,000 minutes and only failed to feature in one match. O’Shea scored 107 points last season largely thanks to his team’s 12 clean sheets they kept whilst he was on the field. And that is a similar story to what I would expect this year. If they can keep 10-plus clean sheets then O’Shea is that perfect cheap/late round fifth defender.

The news that Advocaat has told Santiago Vergini means that he is no longer required by the team and has opened the door to Billy Jones, Sebastien Coates and potentially either Valentin Roberge or Adam Matthews to clain that fourth spot across the Sunderland defence. With Wes Brown likely to be third defender, they have some flexibility as Brown can go out to either right back or play alongside O’Shea in the centre. However, I wouldn’t expect any of these guys, including Brown, to be guys I would consider over O’Shea and it is unlikely you want more than one of the Sunderland defenders to start the 2015/16 season.

Midfield

Seb Larsson

Stud: Sebastien Larsson £5.5m

Larsson had a below average season for himself last year, scoring just his fifth highest fantasy points total of his time in the Premier League. However, Larsson still managed to amass 105 points which made him good value for his cost in the low £5m region. In the past he has returned totals in the 110-120 range and even topped out at 128 in the 2011/12 season when he scored five goals. Larsson is the set piece guy for Sunderland, which is always a bonus. Since his big seven-goal season, he has scored just five goals in the last three seasons, but prior to that he had been averaging five goals a season. Larsson is a solid cheap option who could easily be a bargain if he can find the net four or five times. Larsson has added value in leagues which reward points for crossing, having averaged 1.6 crosses a game last season.

Sleeper: Adam Johnson £6.0m

This should be the stud but with his impending legal issues we could see him having a reduced role, or potentially even no role this season. In salary cap leagues you aren’t going to touch him until you know whether he is going to be fully available or not. But in draft leagues he could be a bargain as a late round pick if he is cleared of all charges and can work his way back in. Johnson is a very talented footballer who would have led Sunderland’s midfield in fantasy points by a wide margin if he had played the same amount of minutes as the likes of Larsson and Wickham. If he plays the majority of the season then 5-plus goals with a similar number of assists should be well within his reach. Which would be a massive bargain for a late round pick.

The only other midfielder I would consider in salary cap leagues is Jordi Gomez, who is cheap at £5m. But Advocaat finished the season playing three strikers and three midfielders, so Gomex could find his role mainly from the bench if Advocaat continues with that plan. If he does play, then Gomez should find himself a penalty taker which will help to boost his goal totals.

A midfielder I would consider in draft leagues is Jack Rodwell, who should play consistently and will boss the midfield but won’t score enough goals to consistently make himself salary cap worthy. As for Lee Cattermole, his disciplinary record is a big concern for fantasy with the potential he could miss a lot of time. But, when available, he will be a key man for Advocaat, if he goes with the three-man midfield.

Strikers

Defoe

Stud: Jermain Defoe £5.5m

Defoe returned to the Premier League in January last season and appeared to take some time to find his legs, as he managed just four goals in his 17 games, amassing just 61 fantasy points. Extrapolating that over a full season would have put him inside the top 15 strikers, and I would expect him to score more than eight goals over the course of a full season, and then we are looking at a potential top 10 striker at an absolute bargain price of just £5.5m. Defoe is a borderline must-own in salary cap leagues and is one player who could really set you apart by allowing you to splash the cash elsewhere on big scoring midfielder or strikers. In draft leagues he could easily go in the 15th to 20th striker off the board range. And with the potential to be among the best strikers in the league that could prove to be an absolute bargain.

Sleeper: Connor Wickham £6.0m

With Advocaat going for a three striker option late last season, Wickham saw plenty of playing time even if it wasn’t in the central role he would have preferred. The young Englishman has flashed signs of breaking out the last two seasons and hopefully 2015/16 can be his season. The price he has been given will prevent him being owned in salary cap leagues early in the season because he is more expensive than Defoe, who I expect to be much better. In draft leagues Wickham could be a late round bargain as a fourth striker because he will likely play most games and time on the field means more chances to score and therefore more opportunities for fantasy points.

Danny Graham and Steven Fletcher seemed to split a lot of time as the third striker in Advocaat’s three striker formation, and unless of them can really put his foot down and win the job, neither of them has massive fantasy relevance. If one of them does earn the job then we could have a decent fantasy option on our hands. I am backing it to be Graham who wins the job, given that the majority of his time came under Advocaat towards the end of the season.

Predicted Opening day line-up:

GK: Costal Pantilimon

RB: Wes Brown

CB: Sebastien Coates

CB: John O’Shea

LB: van Aanholt

MID: Sebastien Larsson

MID: Lee Catermole

MID: Jack Rodwell

FWD: Connor Wickham

FWD: Jermain Defoe

FWD: Danny Graham

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