Heading into this summer’s transfer window, it was abundantly clear that three areas of the pitch needed to be addressed.
Our ageing back line was badly lacking in pace and athleticism, our midfield options were one dimensional and our lack of cover behind key man Callum Wilson were paper thin and unreliable.
We may have brought Joe Willock back to the club on a permanent deal – which was a coup given how successful his loan spell was – however it was said all summer that TWO midfielders were needed, with us lacking an enforcer able to break up the play and add some much needed bite to our soft engine room.
Having almost arrived in January, Hamza Choudhury was clearly identified as someone able to add some steel to a midfield which lacks power and has zero tacklers when Isaac Hayden is out.
That didn’t happen, however, with it well documented that Mike Ashley refused to back Steve Bruce on deadline day.
Then to centre-back – a position we haven’t strengthened since 2018. If that doesn’t sum up how stale we’ve become in certain areas, nothing will!
Our youngest central defender is Jamal Lascelles, yet he turns 28 in November. It wasn’t long ago this was our strongest area of the pitch and a position where we genuinely had five or six reliable options, but it’s now an ageing department that’s sorely lacking in pace and ball players – two traits that are pretty important in a three-man defence.
The likes of William Saliba (Arsenal), Axel Tuanzebe (Man Utd) and Kristoffer Ajer (now at Brentford) were all strongly linked, yet we once again failed to address an area that was crying out for fresh blood.
Last but certainly not least, we’ve taken a big risk up top in typical Mike Ashley style.
If Callum Wilson stays fit then we’ll be fine, however the 29-year-old missed large chunks of last season with hamstring issues and has already picked up a thigh injury just a few weeks into the new season.
That leaves Dwight Gayle as the only out and out striker able to step in. Yes, there’s Joelinton, but it’s been clear for a while now that the former number nine is NOT a centre forward and someone who looks far more capable in a slightly withdrawn role.
Releasing Andy Carroll was the right move – he didn’t look fit or mobile enough to cut it at Premier League level – but why we failed to replace him after getting his and Yoshinori Muto’s wages off the books (over £80,000 combined) is baffling and yet another mistake.
Steve Bruce didn’t help in all of this, stating back in July that he was happy with his forward options, but it seems the typically absent Mike Ashley is happy to risk our Premier League status once again.
As a result, it would not surprise me in the slightest if we’re in a bad way come January and in desperate need of a few season-saving signings when the window reopens in 2022.
Willock may have returned, yet we come out the summer window the only Premier League side who’ve failed to improve their starting 11, allowing three key positions and a potentially capable squad to stagnate – a word that sums up this shell of a football club pretty well, sadly.