Sunderland's contracted players returned to the Academy of Light this week

The strongest Sunderland XI Alex Neil could pick right now - and the clear transfer priorities it shows

Sunderland have returned to the Academy of Light this week as their pre-season preparations begin, with competitive fixtures starting behind closed doors next weekend.

The Black Cats will face Blyth Spartans and Gateshead before heading out for a week-long training camp in Portugal, where one friendly against Rangers is confirmed and a second against another opponent is expected to follow.

It’s a condensed pre-season as a result of the World Cup in Qatar this winter, while Sunderland’s preparation time was also cut short by their play-off involvement.

Time will be of the essence in the transfer market, with the Black Cats playing seven important league fixtures before the transfer window shuts on September 1st, as well as their Carabao Cup first-round fixture against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.

So what's Alex Neil's strongest side as it stands, and what does it show about the transfer priorities in the weeks ahead?

We take a closer look...

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