David Moyes era at Sunderland begins with mid-table hopes
Sunderland staged another escape act last season, as they once again managed to survive in the Premier League. The challenge now is for new boss David Moyes to develop the club so late-season scrapes are a thing of the past.
Here's a look at Sunderland's 2016-17 campaign ...
At a glance
After all the false starts of recent years, the opening games may define the season ahead, and a home win against Middlesbrough (to compensate for likely defeat in the opener at Manchester City), or two wins from the first four, seems essential.
Premier League: 12th
FA Cup: Fifth round
League Cup: Semifinalists
Non-existent until the £8 million signing of former Chelsea centre-back Papy Djilobodji. The unforeseen departure of Sam Allardyce to the England job, after a drawn-out process, cast a dark shadow over preseason activity, leaving his successor Moyes with a gigantic catch-up task.
The few positive starts to preseason included new deals for evergreen striker Jermain Defoe and full-back Patrick van Aanholt, plus the overdue exits of attackers Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham. But with no inward business completed prior to his arrival, Moyes must sign at least three new players -- for defensive and attacking positions -- before the season starts.
Swift movement on acquisitions is likely, but it could prove a much more difficult task if players targeted by Allardyce, such as West Ham's Senegalese striker Diafra Sakho, are not on Moyes' radar. As important as the injection of new blood may be, it is also vital to ward off interest from elsewhere in Lamine Kone, a hero of last season's relegation battle with sterling work at the back and important goals, too. Moyes should also consolidate his midfield by bringing back Yann M'Vila, a loan star last season, and extending the contract of Jan Kirchhoff.
Can Moyes -- Sunderland's eighth manager in just 10 Premier League seasons -- steer the club away from the constant danger of relegation? Unlike all his predecessors, he starts his job before a new season begins. Unlike the last four -- Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat and Allardyce -- he has not first had to experience the nerve-wracking ordeal of a desperate late rush for survival.
Most Sunderland supporters would settle for a mid-table finish in his first season -- strong enough to make it uncommonly stress-free without it being so impressive that he is immediately lured away by a club in the top end of the table, thus preventing a successful and structured rebuilding process. Despite his many detractors, Allardyce beat the drop with football that was, on occasion, as good to watch as anything Sunderland supporters have seen in the top flight since the better days of Peter Reid. Add a few more victories to brighter performances, especially at home and with Defoe still able to bang in goals as he passes 34, and Moyes will prove a crowd pleaser.
The same fundamental issues that confronted Allardyce, Advocaat, Poyet, Di Canio and Martin O'Neill make Moyes' prospects of achieving immediate success touch-and-go. Will his squad be strong enough to make the annual flirtation with danger a grim memory? His preparation time was curtailed by the limbo involving Allardyce and the England job. His own track record, exemplary at Everton, has been marred by less impressive results at Old Trafford and Real Sociedad. For some, Moyes has to prove he is still a top-class manager.
One to watch
Jeremain Lens was attracted to Sunderland before his fellow Dutchman and old boss Advocaat made such a wretched start to last season. There were always flashes of great skill in Lens' play, but doubts about his attitude crept into the assessments of Allardyce and the fans. Good players do not generally become bad ones, however, and if Lens, who finished last season in style with a man-of-the-match display at Watford, has rediscovered his appetite for the game and a desire to succeed at Sunderland, he could be an instantly available gem in Moyes' otherwise sparse jewellery collection.
Colin is ESPN FC's Sunderland blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @salutsunderland