Sunderland were beaten 1-0 by Portuguese Primeira Liga outfit Belenenses this weekend, and Jack Ross’ biggest problem last season is rearing its ugly head once again.
It’s only pre-season. Most managers would quite happily lose every friendly if it meant getting their players fit and primed for the start of the real campaign, and the results don’t really matter.
However, the fact that the Black Cats have now played two friendlies in Portugal and not even scored a single goal is most definitely a concern, after their 0-0 draw with Benfica B last week.
Indeed, last season Ross’ side fell behind in the automatic promotion race when they drew six out of eight league matches 1-1 between December 29 and February 12, and they drew with that same score-line a whopping 15 times in total across the whole campaign.
Just turning a couple of those draws into 2-1 or 3-1 wins could have secured automatic promotion and avoided Wembley heartbreak.
Clearly then, the manager has not yet figured out how to break teams down and open games up, and these problems, which ruined the last campaign and have persisted so far through pre-season, all stem from one position.
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It may be tempting to blame the men up front for the lack of goals, but Sunderland’s Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg have both shown in the past they can perform at this level.
Both players know how to stick the ball in the net if they get the chances, but the problem is they are not getting chances.
George Honeyman was Ross’ first choice in the number ten role last term, but only managed a measly two assists in 28 games in the position.
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Of course, the captain has not travelled on the pre-season trip to Portugal, but even fans have noted that it is the lack of chances to blame for the goalscoring drought, rather than the goalscorers themselves.
With Honeyman providing no success last season and no sign of a top playmaker emerging in pre-season, Ross simply must strengthen the position in the summer transfer window.
The Black Cats have added three new players so far, all in defence, but a creative number ten must now be the absolute priority.
If they don’t get some creativity behind the likes of Grigg and Wyke, the exact same problems that plagued the 18/19 campaign will do the same damage this time around.