Sunderland’s threadbare squad is gearing up for life in the Sky Bet Championship following relegation from the Premier League last season.
Key players have already departed the club this summer, including top scorer Jermain Defoe and homegrown Jordan Pickford.
Newly appointed Simon Grayson has already given several youngsters starting berths in a number of pre-season friendlies, but which of them is ready for a regular first team spot?
Academy products Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman broke into the first team last season, so other young Black Cats should be aiming to do the same.
Rees Greenwood made his Black Cats debut when Sam Allardyce was the Sunderland manager – the final game of the season against Watford in 2016.
The winger hasn’t featured since, however, with Duncan Watmore currently sidelined, Greenwood could be in line for a second appearance.
Good at running with the ball, Greenwood likes to trouble defenders with his blistering pace. The England youngster also has a tenacity about him – something Sunderland fans adore in a player.
The 21-year-old is yet to make an appearance for the Sunderland first team although Beadling could have a key part to play this campaign.
Sunderland’s defence came under heavy scrutiny last season, conceding 69 goals – the third highest amount in the Premier League.
Lamine Kone has been linked with a move to Burnley, Papy Djilobodji has been very unconvincing and John O’Shea is now 36 years of age.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Beadling break into the first team picture.
Josh Maja, 18, has caught the eye of Simon Grayson since the latter was appointed as boss, and was also very highly rated by former Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe.
Bury were undone by two late Maja strikes on Friday as Sunderland won their first pre-season friendly.
The talented striker has been Sunderland’s vocal point during Grayson’s reign and should Maja continue to perform well – it could land him a starting berth against Derby County in the Championship opener.
A highly rated young player and following Defoe’s departure to Bournemouth, Joel Asoro could be given the chance to shine at the Stadium of Light.
The Sweden U21 international was recently interesting the likes of Arsenal and PSG and could be one to watch out for.
Similar to Maja, Asoro is quick, tricky and knows how to hit the back of the net.
Out of all of Sunderland’s young talent, Asoro and Maja are the two most likely players to get first team action.
Written by Peter Whalen
Follow Peter on Twitter @peterjames73
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