Sunderland and Middlesbrough are two of the biggest clubs in the North East and both are playing in the Premier League at the moment, but it looks likely that they will get relegated to the Championship at the end of the season. Having collected just 45 points between them, Sunderland and Middlesbrough probably deserve to go down.
David Moyes is a very good manager and Sunderland are one of the biggest clubs in the world, but the current squad lacks quality, and that shows on the pitch. The Black Cats have lost 21 of their 32 Premier League matches so far this season and have picked up only 21 points. If 40 points are what keep clubs safe in the English top flight, then Sunderland have blown their chance; they would end up with 39 if they win all of their remaining matches.
Middlesbrough gained promotion from the Championship at the end of last season, and at one stage it did look as though they would comfortably finish in mid-table. Before Christmas, Boro, then managed by Aitor Karanka, were as high as 14th in the standings. Things were not exactly rosy for the Riverside Stadium outfit at the time, but there was a very good chance that they would retain their Premier League status for the 2017-18 campaign.
Too many draws
What has damaged Boro more than anything else is their failure to take the game to the opposition. The North Eastern side were a dull and boring team to watch under Karanka, who parted company in mid-March, and there have been too many draws. Middlesbrough have actually drawn the most number of games in the Premier League so far this season: 12. Manchester United have also drawn 12, but Jose Mourinho’s side have won 17 and lost only three; Middlesbrough have won just four and lost 17. In fact, according to research by sports betting company Betway Sports, if you had backed Boro to draw all of their league fixtures this season, then you would have made a profit of £134.
Given the defensive set-up of Middlesbrough under Karanka, one can understand why the team have been able to score only 23 goals in the Premier League so far this season. Sunderland have found the back of the net 26 times, not because of manager David Moyes’s lack of intent to play attacking football but because of lack of real quality up front. As reported by Soccerbase, star striker Jermain Defoe has scored 14 of those 26 goals; when the England international struggles, so does the entire team.
It is only a matter of time before it is confirmed that Sunderland and Middlesbrough are relegated to the Championship. It would be quite sad and demoralising for the two big North-East clubs, but they should be confident of bouncing straight back to the Premier League. After all, Newcastle are set to do so. The Magpies failed to retain their top-flight status for the 2016-17 campaign, but they are now ready to make a return to the Premier League after just one season in the Championship.
Summer signings key
What Sunderland and Middlesbrough need to do in the summer transfer window is retain their best players and make signings who know the Championship inside out. The likes of Ben Gibson, Adam Clayton and Rudy Gestede know the division well and have been successful, and it is imperative that Boro keep them in the squad for the 2017-18 campaign. Patrick Bamford would also be a key player. The former Chelsea forward may have struggled in the Premier League, but the 23-year-old is very much capable of repeating his heroics of 2014-15 in the second tier of English football – he scored 16 goals and created 28 chances in 40 Championship matches for Boro.
Sunderland are unlikely to have Defoe and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the team next season if they get relegated. The Black Cats, though, do need to make good signings in the summer in order to finish in the top two. One player Sunderland simply cannot afford to part company with is Lee Cattermole. The combative midfielder would be an important figure for the Black Cats in the Championship. Fellow midfielder Wahbi Khazri would also be a key player, and so would Jan Kirchhoff, who can operate as a centre-back or as a defensive midfielder.