Sunderland: O'Neill's starting XI for 2012/13
The 2012/13 Premier League season is almost upon us and the Black Cats kick off the new campaign with a visit to Arsenal. Martin O'Neill has only managed to recruit Carlos Cuellar from Aston Villa so far but he is in hot pursuit of Wolves striker Steven Fletcher. Other than that it looks as though the former Celtic boss is going to have to start the season with the majority of the squad he had at his disposal when Steve Bruce was given the boot.
With the Fletcher saga seemingly no nearer to a conclusion it remains to be seen whether Martin O’Neill will turn his attentions elsewhere with the surprise name of Djibril Cisse popping-up in news stories and fan forums over the past few days. Certainly Cisse was a big hit on Wearside and even admitted to wanting to extend his contract amid claims that he was forced out by messers Spragia and Quinn.
I’ve said it before but I’d like to see Michael Owen and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel come in and have them fed by the likes of Adam Johnson and Stewart Downing. Oh well, one can dream.
Martin O’Neill would like to have at least one striker in by next Saturday’s clash with Arsenal, but in the chance that he doesn’t, this - in my opinion - is the best team he can field.
GK: Simon Mignolet
The Belgian has come under criticism in some circles, but with an amazing 20 clean sheets in only 52 games one has to believe that O’Neill will plump for the 24 year old, with the Irish international Keiren Westwood impatiently waiting in the wings.
LB: Carlos Cuellar
Perhaps the toughest position to predict, Sunderland do not have an out and out left back - with the possible exception of Kieran Richardson who I’ve omitted from this team as I believe he’s on his way out, with QPR and West Ham interested in the former England international. In my opinion I see Cuellar as no more than back-up for the desired choice of John O’Shea and Wes Brown, but with the latter's proneness to injury Cuellar will most likely start the beginning of the season. Youngster Blair Adams was tried out in the latest pre-season friendly against Derby, but O’Neill will go with the tried and tested former Villain.
CB: John O’Shea
Arguably one of the first picks on the team sheet, O’Shea will look to show the kind of form that made him a cult hero at Old Trafford and be the rock at the back of the Black Cats defence.
CB: Titus Bramble
Tough choice as I too believe Bramble to be on the way out; his contract expires at the end of next season and it makes sense to cash in on a player who is outstanding on his day, but has his troubles with the law. That said, with Brown seemingly out with ligament damage and Matt Kilgallon not fully fit I expect to see Bramble start at the Emirates Stadium.
RB: Phil Bardsley
Who else but Phil Bardsley; the guy has been immense in the past two seasons when it seemed as if he was on his way out during Alan Hutton’s loan spell at the club. Bardo led by example when given the responsibility of captain and has weighed in with his share of goals, most of which have been spectacular. I fully expect the former Man Utd rookie to be sporting the red and white of Sunderland for years to come. Will look to shake off a niggling ankle injury in time for the trip to Arsenal.
LM: James McClean
The Irish star was a revelation last season, debuting at a crucial time and can arguably be credited for turning Sunderland’s season around as well as making himself into a household name. Towards the end of last season opposition defenders became wary of McClean’s direct approach and doubled up on him. It remains to be seen how McClean changes his game this time around, with whispers that he may take up a striking position a la Thierry Henry.
CM: Lee Cattermole
The Sunderland captain is magnificent on some days, and reckless on others. Luckily for the team his good days tend to come against big teams, so what better way for Catts to dominate the midfield, than against the likes of Santi Carzola, Mikel Arteta and Lukas Podolski.
CM: Jack Colback
When Jordan Henderson left for Liverpool last season many fans thought the club wouldn’t create another homegrown talent like him for some time. Well, Colback may be a Geordie but you get the point. The ginger ninja was a revelation last season and excelled in the center of the park, on the wing, or even at left back. There were rumors that a Champions League team was in the hunt for the 22 year old and if he’s anything like he was last season, there may be more than rumors.
RM: Sebastian Larsson
I think that Seb’s best position is the center of midfield but with Martin O’Neill’s lack of faith in Ahmad Elmohamady, and no other real winger at the club it seems that Larsson’s place will be on the right wing for some time to come. Not the fastest in the world, the Swede makes up for it with his fantastic vision, crisp passing and magical free-kicks.
AM: Craig Gardner
According to O’Neill Gardner’s most effective position is just behind the striker and that’s why I believe he will go for a 4-4-1-1 for the Arsenal encounter with Gardner behind Sessegnon. With a penchant for glorious strikes, Gardner’s form was exciting at times last season, but many times he drifted out of the game. He will be hoping for more consistency and goals this time around.
CF: Stephane Sessegnon
Currently carrying a knock, Sessegnon is a doubt for the Arsenal game, but one has to believe that, unless he’s being readied for a move down south he’ll be amongst the starting lineup in nine days’ time. The Benin international is a wizard with the ball at his feet and many, including myself will be praying that he chooses to play out his career on Wearside.
Now, just for giggles, here’s the team that I would put out (injuries withstanding):
Bardsley O’Shea Brown Richardson
Elmo Larsson Cattermole Sessegnon
Fletcher (if/when he signs)
Well, that's my opinion. What do you guys think? I’d love to hear who you would choose.
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