The forgotten Sunderland man who could help solve a problem position for Lee Johnson next season

This is a summer transfer window in which data will help Sunderland to inform their decision-making.

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 4:45 pm

Lee Johnson has spoken recently about a want to flag-up players who could fit the club’s playing profile before they appear on the radar of other clubs.

A similar approach was pursued last summer - albeit with less resource behind it – and led to an ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of Argentinian striker Mateo Bajamich.

But it wasn’t just the Instituto striker who was flagged up by the data.

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The forgotten Sunderland man who could help solve a problem position for Lee Johnson next season

Sunderland were also alerted to Arbenit Xhemajli, who impressed on trial before being handed a two-year-deal.

So it was no surprise, therefore, that when head coach Johnson consulted similar data as he assessed the squad before his appointment that Xhemajli was flagged up as a key man.

Indeed, such was the strength of the data behind the Kosovan centre back that he ranked as the best defender in League One – although Johnson conceded that such figures may partially be due to the league he played in before his arrival on Wearside.

But such figures should give hope that Xhemajli can make a major impact when he returns from his long-term injury.

It is hoped that the 23-year-old will be able to return to full training during pre-season, which could hand Johnson a major boost in what became a problem position towards the end of the 2020/21 campaign.

As injuries increased, so did the number of defensive errors made by the Black Cats.

That was perhaps to be expected given that the side were playing with a patched-up backline, and Sunderland will no doubt benefit from the ability to select another recognised central defender when Xhemajli returns.

The defender only made one competitive appearance for the club and – given that it came in the 8-1 win over Aston Villa under-21s – it’s difficult to make any conclusive judgements on his ability to step into the first team in a regular basis.

But having gone largely under the radar last season, this could be a key season for Xhemajli.

The onus is now on him to back-up that impressive data.

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