Alex Neil gives Arbenit Xhemajli and Callum Doyle update and has clear Sunderland selection message

Arbenit Xhemajli and Callum Doyle will both be available for Sunderland selection at Charlton Athletic on Saturday afternoon.

By Phil Smith
Friday, 4th March 2022, 12:00 pm

Doyle was given some time off by Alex Neil last week as he recovered from a minor hip problem, with the Sunderland head coach also eager to give him a rest after a demanding schedule in his first senior season.

That led to Xhemajli getting his first league start for the club, and he impressed with what Neil described as a 'good, solid performance' in the 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic,

The Kosovan suffered with cramp towards the end of the game but has trained fully with his team-mates this week, handing Neil a very welcome selection dilemma in a part of the pitch where he has had limited options of late.

Sunderland defender Arbenit Xhemajli

"I don't think it's much of a concern in terms of going from Saturday to Saturday," Neil said of managing Xhemajli's game time.

"We've had a full week between matches, if we're talking Saturday-Tuesday particularly after his first game back, then we might be having a different conversation.

"He's been fine, he understands that he got an opportunity in the last one and the last thing you want to do is give that up willingly.

"He's been OK.

"As for Callum, he looks brighter, I think he needed that break," Neil added.

"A mental break as much as anything else, to go home, disappear, spend some time with your family.

"We've asked a lot of him and in terms of spirit, he seems to be in a much better place than before.

"It's good, and listen, kids like that need that. We've got to remember that he's only 18, it's a hell of a lot of expectation and pressure to put on a young kid."

Sunderland play three games in a week from Saturday, with Fleetwood Town and Crewe Alexandra visiting the Stadium of Light in the aftermath of the trip to The Valley this weekend.

But Neil insists that none of his selections on Saturday will be made with the demanding schedule in mind.

He is trying to find a balance of fitness and freshness across his squad by the end of the season but with a play-off place at this stage a long way from being secured, he says he has no intention of looking beyond the next game anytime soon.

"The important thing for us at the moment is that we don't look too far ahead," he said.

"I'm literally prepping for this game, and then we will see how the land lies after that, and then I'll start with the preparations for the next one.

"I don't want to get too smart, start planning formations and personnel for games beyond the next one.

"That next one is the most important one for us, we're not at a stage where we can plan three or four games ahead because we're in a comfortable position, we need to get the next three points.

"Hopefully you can work yourself into a comfortable position and then you can start to forward plan, but we are certainly not there just now."

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