The state of play with the twelve senior Sunderland players currently under contract for next season

Speaking after Sunderland’s season came to a disappointing end on Saturday, Lee Johnson said that evolution in the squad was ‘inevitable’.

Monday, 24th May 2021, 5:08 pm

The Black Cats have a raft of players out of contract and Johnson expects some to leave. Some of those through the choice of the club, and some of those perhaps due to the choice of the players themselves.

"There’s going to be a natural evolution of the squad now,” he said.

"Some players will have played their last game there today for various reasons. Some we may want to keep but can’t afford to, some we might not want and will want to move on, and others we might want to retain and will give them our best offer.”

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Sunderland have insisted that Elliot Embleton has a big role to play next season
Sunderland have insisted that Elliot Embleton has a big role to play next season

It is going to be a potentially transformative summer on Wearside, and so we’ve run through the squad as it stands to highlight who is contracted for next season as it stands, and what it tells us about the window ahead.

Johnson has said that the quality of the club’s summer recruitment will be key and when you look at the potential gaps soon opening up, it is easy to see why….

GOALKEEPERS

Under contract: N/A

Out of contract: Lee Burge, Remi Matthews, Anthony Patterson

With his game time limited under Johnson, Remi Matthews seems likely to depart this summer.

Matthews had been brought in to compete for the number one spot and it's worth noting that for much of the window, Sunderland feared that the salary cap would take the former Bolton goalkeeper out of their range.

Burge is believed to be one of the players out of contract with the option of another year so the question will be whether the Black Cats need to recruit one or two new senior goalkeepers.

Patterson has made a real impression on Johnson, who believes his command of the box and stature between the posts exceeds most other goalkeepers of his age.

Sunderland will unquestionably seek to secure a new deal for the youngster. The question is then whether or not he goes out on loan next season.

DEFENDERS

Under contract: Tom Flanagan, Jordan Willis, Bailey Wright, Arbenit Xhemajli

Out of contract: Conor McLaughlin, Callum McFadzean, Denver Hume

A need to strengthen at full back is glaringly obvious.

Sunderland will look to retain Denver Hume, who Johnson rates highly and believes he can improve significantly. However, better back up is obvious and the other flank has been an issue for much of the season with McLaughlin struggling due to injuries.

Much will depend on Luke O'Nien, but if he stays then the time has surely come for a spell in midfield, especially given the desire to implement a pressing game.

Centre-back is one area where in numbers at least, there is depth.

Willis, though, will be unavailable for much of the season and Arbenit Xhemajli is still recoving from a similarly serious injury. Johnson rates him highly and expects him to be a force, but more options are a must.

More pace, too.

Dion Sanderson transformed this side with his athleticism and composure, and Sunderland will need to find a player of a similar calibre.

MIDFIELDERS:

Under contract: George Dobson, Lynden Gooch, Elliot Embleton, Jack Diamond, Carl Winchester

Out of contract: Max Power, Luke O'Nien, Josh Scowen, Chris Maguire, Aiden McGeady, Grant Leadbitter

George Dobson seems unlikely to be part of the squad next season, given how limited his game time was under Johnson.

The midfielder made a big impression at AFC Wimbledon and has hinted that he is open to making the arrange permanent. They would certainly like to keep him.

Diamond and Gooch are certain to be part of the squad next season, and both Johnson and Speakman have insisted that they have big plans for Elliot Embleton.

He has had a hugely successful loan at Blackpool and the time for a run in the side is surely now.

Sunderland need depth in central midfield, even if they opt to retain Scowen or Power. They also need more creativity and athleticism in this key area of the pitch. Johnson has said that his preferred formation is 4-3-3 (or a variation on it), and so their summer recruitment here is going to be absolutely crucial to making the playing philosophy a success.

Maguire looks set to depart, while Johnson wants to keep Aiden McGeady for another year. The key question there is whether the winger can come to agreement with the Sporting Director over the terms of a new deal.

STRIKERS:

Under contract: Aiden O'Brien, Ross Stewart, Will Grigg

Out of contract: Charlie Wyke, Benji Kimpioka

Ross Stewart's performance against Lincoln on Saturday backed up his impressive display at Plymouth Argyle, and underlined the important role he seems certain to have next season.

Sunderland will try to retain Charlie Wyke after his 31-goal campaign, but Johnson has been candid in admitting that the striker is likely to have offers from higher tiers.

If he leaves then recruiting another forward becomes imperative.

Grigg, meanwhile, seems likely to depart.

He has one year left on his current deal and it feels as if all parties have in all likelihood reached the stage where a fresh start is needed.

MK Dons have made abundantly clear on numerous occasions that they want to sign him, but that they felt it could be more difficult were Sunderland to fail to win promotion.

All three parties, though, will seemingly start on the basis that finding an agreement is best.

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