Sunderland v Benfica, Amsterdam Tournament, July 23, 2009
Steve Bruce will have the first proper chance to assess the qualities of his Black Cats team and look to home Sunderland’s tactics and formation for the long season ahead as he takes the Wearsiders to the Dutch capital to compete in the Amsterdam Tournament.
Much of the pre-season to-date for Sunderland has focused on which players the club can attract in order to bolster their squad. But, as is becoming rapidly clear to Bruce, despite his club’s relatively healthy financial position in being able to offer high-paying contracts, the club’s location is choking attempts at attracting some of the more desirable transfer targets.
Having accepted that targets including Peter Crouch will not be heading to the Stadium of Light, the focus has shifted onto the likes of Kenwyne Jones (8/1 to score first) to prove he deserves to start the season in the team. Chalking up a disappointing ten goals last term despite being considered virtually undroppable under Ricky Sbragia, Bruce appears to be less enamoured with his Trinidadian striker, who may may have been considered surplus to requirements had other signings come off.
Elsewhere, the tournament will give Sunderland fans the opportunity toÂ catch a glimpse of new striker Frazier Campbell, while the majority of Bruce’s 45-man squad will likely get some playing time in an effort to sort the haves from the have-nots.
One player missing for the Black Cats will be keeper Craig Gordon, who remains sidelined by the knee injury which wrecked last season almost completely for the Scotsman. That allows Hungarian shot-stopper Martin Fulop the opportunity to cement his position between the sticks. (Sunderland are 13/5 to keep a clean sheet.)
Benfica will offer testing opposition for the Premier Leaguers. The Portuguese giants were left disappointed by their third-placed finish last season, and they have moved quickly this summer to make changes at the club by replacing Quique Sanchez Flores with former Braga manager Jorge Jesus.
The change at the top has also been met with a freshening up of the playing staff, with â‚¬12.5million being spent on forwards Javier Saviola (5/4 to score) and Ramires being brought into the attack, while â‚¬10million has been invested in defensive cover with the purchases of Javi Garcia and Patric. Together with the existing talents of centre-forwards Oscar Cardoza (11/2 to score first) and Nuno Gomes, winger Angel di Maria and playmaker Pablo Aimer, Benfica are bursting with attacking options.
Benfica have already played a couple of tough pre-season friendlies this summer, beating Athletic Bilbao 2-1 thanks to a Saviola brace (watch here), and losing by the same scoreline to Atletico Madrid in their last match (watch here).
101gg predicts: Sunderland 1 – Benfica 2 (15/2)
Full match odds here.