SULLEY MUNTARI is not guaranteed a place in the Sunderland starting line-up at Stoke City tomorrow, says Steve Bruce.
The Black Cats’ manager will decide over the next 24 hours whether to start the on-loan Inter Milan midfielder, explaining: “I don’t want to ask too much of him too early.”
The odds are still firmly in favour of the 26-year-old being involved from the start at the Britannia Stadium, but Bruce cautioned: “We’ve been assessing him in training this week and he’s done OK so far – you can see he’s a quality footballer.
“But he hasn’t played too much football recently and I have to ask myself whether he’s ready for a game in which, because it is likely to be a very physical contest, we could lose him to injury or even a suspension.
“It’s all about timing, but he’s certainly in my plans for the game.”
Bruce has been boosted by the return of veteran midfielder Bolo Zenden to full training. He said: “Bolo missed the Chelsea game because of a knock on the knee in training, but he has recovered from that and will be available for the weekend.”
Despite the long injury list we have – which includes two key midfielders in David Meyler and Lee Cattermole – Bruce has plenty of options when it comes to midfield.
He said: “Bolo back and Sulley an option means there’s various ways I can go this weekend.
“We’ve lost young Jordan Cook to a hamstring strain, so we’re down to the one out-and-out striker in Asamoah Gyan and we’re limited in that sense.
“But I think we’ve got loads of exciting players in midfield and we also have players who are happy to play behind the frontman.
“You look at someone like Stephane Sessegnon, for example, and his performance in the first half against Chelsea and you know he’s going to be a threat.
“Muntari, too, is the sort of player who will give us something extra from midfield.
“But Bolo was excellent against Blackpool, Steed Malbranque was excellent against Chelsea and we have players who are clever enough and skilful enough to open defences playing behind just the one striker.
“Going into the game tomorrow, I’m happy that the players we have will be able to give them a game.”