The regular 2023/24 Championship campaign still had two weeks to run, but Sunderland were already being linked with players ahead of the summer transfer window opening. The Black Cats' campaign would end in disappointing fashion with a 2-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, and all eyes are now firmly fixed on next season.

Sunderland need to bring in a number of experienced Championship players this summer if they want to avoid a repeat of this season, with the club aiming for promotion and at very least, a play-off place. An underwhelming summer transfer window laid the foundations for a disappointing campaign, losing the experienced Lynden Gooch, Danny Batth, Alex Pritchard and Ross Stewart only to replace them with young talents, who at times, have looked out of their depth.

Now, with Corry Evans and Bradley Dack departing the club this summer, the need for experience has cranked up another level. Mike Dodds has already hinted that the Wearsiders will look to change tact this summer, with the need for more strength in depth and additions that have played regularly in the second tier of English football.

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One area of the pitch that has been particularly disappointing, is the right-hand side of Sunderland's attack. Young star, Chris Rigg has made that area of the pitch his own in the final few weeks of the campaign, but Patrick Roberts, Romaine Mundle and Abdoullah Ba have all struggled.

The 16-year-old made 21 appearances by the time the curtain fell on the recent campaign - an impressive debut season, but his inclusion at such a young age only highlighted the need for more strength in depth.

Which is where soon-to-be free agent, Chris Willock, comes into play. The former Arsenal trainee and current QPR winger has been linked with a move to Wearside this summer when his contract at the London club expires.

While his links to Wearside are purely speculation at this stage, it's clear to see why Sunderland, along with Norwich City, have been linked with the 26-year-old. Since arriving at Loftus Road back in 2020, Willock has made 153 appearances, scoring 20 times, including four goals and four assists in 39 appearances this term - predominantly playing on the right.

We Are Sunderland: Callum Styles challenges Chris Willock in Sunderland vs QPR at the Stadium of Light earlier this season.Callum Styles challenges Chris Willock in Sunderland vs QPR at the Stadium of Light earlier this season. (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Four players have occupied Sunderland’s right flank this season; Ba, Mundle, Roberts and Rigg, but with just six goals and six assists in the Championship between them all season - a clear need for an improvement in terms of goal contributions.

Of the four Ba (1,927) and Roberts (1,848) have played the most minutes with both getting over 1,800. Ba has the highest xG (expected goals) of the four coming in at 4.08 while Roberts has the highest xA (expected assists) at 4.85.

Roberts has also created the most chances, 52, and had the most shots, 41, but has only registered two assists all season.

Mundle (485) and Rigg (756) have both played under 1000 minutes neither player has registered an assist this campaign but both have made the scoresheet Mundle once and Rigg twice.

When compared with Jack Clarke on the left of Sunderland’s attack who has scored 15 goals this season it’s obvious the right-wing position needs strengthening.

Would Willock be a good acquisition for the Black Cats?

He has plenty of experience having played 154 Championship games, more than all of the players Sunderland have fielded on the right-flank this season. Roberts is the closest to him with 125 games but how do the two compare this season?

We Are Sunderland: Chris Willock's shot map in the Championship this season.Chris Willock's shot map in the Championship this season. (Image: StatsBomb)

Willock has scored four goals, four more than Roberts on zero, taking just four more shots than Roberts has. He also has two more assists than the Sunderland winger despite Roberts creating 23 fewer chances.

If we look a the shot map above, the majority of Willocks shots come from cutting in from the right-hand side of the pitch and into the area, however, he isn’t afraid to take on shots from range, with his four goals evenly split - two inside and two outside the box.

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His goal against Hull City back in December 2023, cutting in from the left-hand side of the pitch, a brilliant example of his versatility and eye for goal.

If we compare Roberts and Willock using the radar below, while the former may have struggled this season with end product, he is fairing better with his on-ball value (OBV) - which can be explained here - he has a better pass OBV of 0.04 to 0.03 and a better dribble and carries OBV 0.21 compared with Willock’s 0.13, per 90 minute matches.

This season, Roberts had more touches in the box over a 90-minute game, with an average of 4.99 touches, Willock only averaged 3.12 touches per 90.

That being said, Willock does fare better than Roberts in other areas. This season he won more fouls, 2.41 to 1.31 and gave the ball away less than Roberts only averaging 2.49 turnovers per 90, to Roberts' average of 4.08.

We Are Sunderland: How Chris Willock compares to Patrick Roberts this season.How Chris Willock compares to Patrick Roberts this season. (Image: StatsBomb)

There is a similar story when Willock’s stats are compared to that of Ba, both players have played 38 matches this season, with the QPR man starting five more.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Ba has a higher average xG by 0.04 but takes fewer shots per 90, 1.58 compared to Willock’s 1.71.

Willock does come out stronger in other areas. He averages higher in pass OBV at 0.03 with Ba creating 0.00. His dribble and carry OBV is higher than Ba’s as well coming out at 0.13, 0.02 higher then Ba.

Ba produces 1.61 more touches in the opposition box on when compared with Willock, but he wins less fouls, 1.58 compared to 2.41, and creates more turnovers by giving the ball away, doing so 1.47 more times per 90.

We Are Sunderland: How Chris Willock compares to Abdoullah Ba this season.How Chris Willock compares to Abdoullah Ba this season. (Image: StatsBomb)

As we see in the images below, Willock is more of a ball carrying winger, not afraid to take on his man, carrying the ball up the pitch and drive his team into the final third.

We Are Sunderland: Chris Willock in action against Preston North End.Chris Willock in action against Preston North End. (Image: Wyscout)We Are Sunderland: We Are Sunderland: We Are Sunderland: Chris Willock has options in the final third after drawing in two defenders.Chris Willock has options in the final third after drawing in two defenders. (Image: Wyscout)

However, Willock falls short in other areas taking on fewer shots and getting fewer touches in the opposition box. His xG, xG per shot and open play xG assisted are all lower than the league average.

Interestingly though, Willock has produced a number of key passes from the right-hand channel of the pitch, which has been lacking at Sunderland this season.

In the images below, we see his assists, key passes and the resulting shots from those passes.

We Are Sunderland: Chris Willock's key passes, assists and resulting shots from this season at QPR.Chris Willock's key passes, assists and resulting shots from this season at QPR. (Image: StatsBomb)

Sunderland have struggled to get shots away in the box, particularly during the second half of the season.

We see a number of opportunities created by Willock in and around the six-yard box and penalty spot.

When compared to league average for wingers and attacking midfielders, Willock performs above average for fouls won and has fewer turnovers per 90 minutes. He also has a higher dribble and carry OBV.

We Are Sunderland: How Chris Willock compares to the Championship average for wingers and attacking midfielders.How Chris Willock compares to the Championship average for wingers and attacking midfielders. (Image: StatsBomb)

Availability is also key for any player who wants to make an impact - something that Sunderland know all too well. Injuries have had a severe impact on the final third of the pitch, with Clarke and Roberts both missing large chunks of the campaign.

Willock has started 26 of the 38 games he has played. He has also featured as an unused substitute on two occasions and has received zero red cards this season, with just three yellows, showing his discipline.

We Are Sunderland: Chris Willock's availability for QPR this season.Chris Willock's availability for QPR this season. (Image: StatsBomb)Sunderland look set to plough on with their summer recruitment despite their being no permanent head coach on Wearside.

In theory, the Black Cats' style of play should not be impacted too severely when changing the head coach, as Kristjaan Speakman outlined after Michael Beale replaced Tony Mowbray, but as we saw this season, it certainly does. Sunderland have been consistent with their recruitment model in terms of attracting technically gifted, young players. But the need for experience this summer if vital.

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Should the club make a move for Willock, they'll want to do so early to avoid being drawn into a financial battle with the likes of the Canaries. As they've shown already under Kyril Louis-Dreyfus' ownership, they won't be held to ransom over contract terms. 

His free agent status will be attractive to the Black Cats' recruitment team. His skillset also offers attributes that differ from the rest of Sunderland’s right wingers. But there are also parts of his game that do lack in comparison to the current crop of Black Cats forwards.

Will we see him in a red and white shirt next season? Time will tell.