Paolo Di Canio stepped into the Stadium of Light hot seat near the end of last season and kept Sunderland up with a game to spare. The controversial Italian has been busy this summer, bringing in eight players and shipping out eleven, and Sunderland’s hopes rest on new signings gelling quickly.
The Black Cats are 9/2 to avoid relegation again, and that could look a big price if Di Canio’s men struggle in the early weeks.
Sunderland looked useful in the pre-season Asia Cup when beating a strong Tottenham line up, and held their own for long periods against Man City, but the pitch conditions in Hong Kong favoured Di Canio’s physical approach, and he will have to get his team playing better with the ball on the ground.
Di Canio won two out of seven games as Sunderland manager last spring, and became a cult hero.
But if he gets into a run like that this season he could be gone before Christmas, and the 9/1 about him becoming the first manager to leave his post appeals at a club on its fifth manager in the last five years.
Sunderland open the season at home to Fulham, then travel to Southampton and Crystal Palace before hosting Arsenal after the international weekend.
They will be fancied to pick up some points in the first three games, but Martin Jol’s side have made steady progress while Nicola Cortese is writing big cheques at St Mary’s.
Di Canio may have freshened up the squad, and placed an emphasis on fitness, but the teams around Sunderland are improving too.
Ian Holloway showed with Blackpool that he can win games in the Premier League, and Sunderland at home early in the season is just the kind of match the Eagles will have to win if they are to stand a chance of staying up.