Sunderland manager Lee Johnson has revealed that defender Arbenit Xhemajli is on course to return to action in pre-season.
Xhemajli joined the Black Cats with Swiss second-tier side Neuchatel Xamax back in the summer transfer window.
However, the centre back has yet to make his league debut for the club, after suffering a serious knee injury while on international duty with Kosovo back in the early stages of the campaign.
That means that Xhemajli has yet to play for the club since the appointment of Johnson, who took over at The Stadium of Light back in December, some time after the defender had suffered his injury.
Now though, it appears that Xhemajli is making positive progress in his bid to get back to full fitness, and having checked the statistics, the Sunderland boss is seemingly expecting big things from his when he does.
Providing an update on the 23-year-old, Johnson was quoted by The Northern Echo as saying: “Arby is out on the grass. It’s really, really nice to see him out. He’s a lovely lad.
“When I came into the football club, I did my research, and it was interesting how statistically, he came out as the best defender in the division.
“It may have been a little bit skewed in terms of the rating because of the foreign league he came from, but I thought that was an interesting fact.
“He’s a player that I was looking forward to seeing, but didn’t really know the extent of his injury until I got in the building.”
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Discussing the process Xhemajli is currently going through, and when he might be back in action, Johnson added: “It was great to see him out there, bounding over hurdles, jumping and changing direction.
“He’s not close to a return, but if we can get him some minutes in pre-season then that would really be quite a fast-track in terms of his recuperation.”
Xhemajli’s only appearance for Sunderland to date, came in the club’s 8-1 thrashing of Aston Villa’s Under 21s in the EFL Trophy all the way back in September last year.
This is certainly encouraging to see from a Sunderland perspective.
Injuries in defence have been a big problem for the Black Cats this season, and they will not want that to be the same again next season.
That is something that Xhemajli’s return to full fitness should certainly help Sunderland to avoid, and he will surely be desperate to get back in action after so long on the sidelines.
Indeed, it will be interesting if the centre back will be able to live up to Johnson’s expectations of him, with the Sunderland boss clearly optimistic about the influence Xhemajli could have on the side.