The state of play with every Sunderland player as pre-season begins amid major summer rebuild

Sunderland return for pre-season training this week with a squad still very much in transition.

Sunday, 27th June 2021, 12:45 pm

With seven players released earlier this summer and four still weighing up their futures, Lee Johnson will rely on the club's academy products to strengthen his options in the interim.Even amongst those senior players under contract there are some whose futures are very much uncertain.We run you through the state of play with each player...

LEE BURGE

Burge had established himself as the club's number one by the end of the campaign and the departure of Remi Matthews means he starts pre-season as the senior option in this position.

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Sunderland have said that Elliot Embleton will be one of the young players given a big chance to impress this season
Sunderland have said that Elliot Embleton will be one of the young players given a big chance to impress this season

Though the season is some way off still and the club are likely to monitor their options as the market develops, that seems likely to remain the case.

ANTHONY PATTERSON

Patterson's excellent campaign in the U23 side was rewarded with a new contract and as it stands he is expected to start the campaign as competition for Burge.

That, clearly, will mean significant pre-season opportunities to impress.

A loan move is still a possibility later in the window, depending how the early stages of the campaign progress, but as it stands the 21-year-old will get a chance to show why he is so highly rated at the Academy of Light.

TOM FLANAGAN

Injury prevented Flanagan from building any kind of momentum through the second half of the campaign and as such, it is difficult to judge where Johnson sees him in his plans for the campaign.

Phil Parkinson was a big fan of the defender, who made that slot on the left of the back three his own, but Johnson is unlikely to use that system a great deal this season.

With experienced players thin on the ground as it stands, there will undoubtedly be chances to impress.

JORDAN WILLIS

Willis is set to miss the majority of this campaign as he continues his recovery from a major knee injury.

Sunderland announced in April that they expected the talented centre-back, who has been one of the club's best signings since dropping into the third tier, that they expected him to be out for around nine to twelve months.

BAILEY WRIGHT

Wright was handed a difficult task at the end of last season, asked to play in a demanding schedule immediately after returning from injury.

Sunderland will hope a full pre-season campaign enables him to get up to speed.

The Black Cats are moving generally to bring the average age of their squad down considerably and so Wright's experience will be important as a balance to that.

ARBENIT XHEMAJLI

Xhemajli has been stepping up his recovery from a major knee ligament injury in recent months, and was back on the Academy of Light grass in the closing stages of the season.

The hope on Sunderland's part was that the Kosovan would be able to play some part in pre-season, potentially paving the way for a significant role across the campaign.

Sunderland will be cautious with the 23-year-old to maximise his chances of a full recovery, but Johnson has already spoken of what an asset he believes he could have on his hands.

OLLIE YOUNGER

Younger had an excellent first campaign at the club, quickly pushing his way to the front of the pecking order in terms of the club's academy defenders.

Though his gametime was limited, he was a regular presence in senior training and was named in a number of matchday squads.

Sunderland's defensive options are currently limited and so he is another who has a major opportunity to impress over the next few weeks.

GEORGE DOBSON

Dobson has one year remaining on his Sunderland deal but a departure in the coming weeks appears at this stage to be an inevitability.

The midfielder rarely featured under Johnson before heading on loan to AFC Wimbledon, and head coach Mark Robinson revealed last week that the club have made Dobson an offer to make the switch permanent.

He added that he expects Dobson to move elsewhere, with the Black Cats seemingly happy to sanction a move.

CARL WINCHESTER

Winchester signed for an initial two-and-a-half years when joining Sunderland in January, which was a sign of the new regime's faith in long-term value regardless of whether the 2020/21 campaign ended in promotion or not.

With Sunderland's central midfield options currently threadbare, Winchester has a big opportunity to hit the ground running and make one of what is likely to be three roles next season his own.

The 28-year-old showed his ability at times in his five months at the club, and Johnson will be looking for him to apply it consistently moving forwards.

DAN NEIL

Neil made significant strides in the last pre-season campaign, and if he is able to do so this time around then he will be a contender to begin the campaign.

Other than full back, no other area of the pitch is as depleted as central midfield and Neil will be rewarded with opportunities after captaining the U23 side which so impressed last season.

Time is on Neil's side but his attributes, certainly in possession, look to be exactly what Sunderland need going forward.

LYNDEN GOOCH

Gooch is highly valued by the Sunderland coaching staff for his dynamism and also his versatility.

He played in a number of different roles throughout the second half of the campaign but will likely be hoping for a run in his favoured central position this time around.

This is the final year of his current deal and so it is an important campaign for the 25-year-old, now an established member of the senior group.

ELLIOT EMBLETON

Supporters will be keeping a close eye on Embleton's progress in pre-season.

Sunderland have already said that they want to make the attacking midfielder a key part of their squad for the upcoming campaign.

However, his successful loan at Blackpool means there are suitors for the 22-year-old and that extends beyond the club where he won an impressive promotion.

Two-footed and capable of playing in a wide number of attacking positions, Embleton's versatility should be a key asset for Sunderland this season and his progress will be a test of the club's stated commitment to progressing academy talent.

JACK DIAMOND

Sunderland have committed to giving Diamond a prominent role in the senior squad last season, building on his breakthrough in the second half of last season.

Johnson rates the winger highly and has worked closely with him on his end product and general all-round game.

The club believe he has all the attributes to eventually go on and play at a higher level and so he returns for pre-season a key figure in the squad.

ELLIS TAYLOR

Taylor recently signed his first professional terms and is likely to be rewarded for an excellent season in the U23s last time out with some involvement in the senior environment.

The left winger is highly rated and looks to have a bright future on Wearside.

JOSH HAWKES

Hawkes had a superb first year on Wearside, one of the best players in the division as Sunderland's U23 side stormed the play-off final in their division.

Hawkes trained regularly with the first team in that time, and impressed with his end product and quality on the ball.

The key for Johnson was that Hawkes made strides over the summer on the physical aspects of his game, and the plan for some time was that these early weeks of pre season would be used to give him an opportunity to stake a claim for regular senior football.

With the squad still very much in transition he has a big opportunity.

AIDEN O'BRIEN

O'Brien had a mixed first campaign on Wearside.

After initially impressing in pre-season, he struggled to score regularly and saw his gametime begin to decline under Phil Parkinson.

He would go on to be an integral part of the side who went on a significant unbeaten run earlier this year, only to largely drop out of contention again for the play-off campaign.

His physicality and industry was seen as a key part of Charlie Wyke's success, and the likely departure of the forward will likely give O'Brien a chance to impress Johnson while the squad rebuild continues.

WILL GRIGG

Grigg seems likely to seal a permanent move away from the club this summer.

MK Dons have made their desire to pursue a deal clear after a successful loan spell last season, while Wigan Athletic are also keen to explore a potential return for their former striker.

Grigg has one year left on his current Sunderland deal, and so the key will be finding a financial agreement that suits all parties.

Last season a promising pre-season campaign raised hopes that Grigg could make an impact, but this time around the expectation is that a new challenge is the preferred outcome.

ROSS STEWART

Charlie Wyke is expected to leave Sunderland and though the club will certainly look to recruit another striker, they have high hopes for Stewart.

Some encouraging performances towards the end of last season showed his athleticism and he is set to be a central part of the squad this year.

Those cameos suggested he had come through the niggling injuries that affected his first month or so on Wearside, and the Black Cats will hope that a full pre-season will allow him to make an even greater impact.

And who might yet join them?

Sunderland remain hopeful that a cohort of the four players they have offered new deals to could yet opt to stay on Wearside.

Aiden McGeady is thought to be close to agreeing terms on a new deal and there have been positive noises on the future of Luke O'Nien, too.

Charlie Wyke is expected to depart, while the club hopes that Denver Hume will extend his stay.

Swift resolutions will be hoped for in all four cases, allowing Johnson to quickly get to work on the training ground, either with the players in question or their replacements.

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