Sunderland's EFL Trophy clash with Manchester United U21 could come too soon for Arbenit Xhemajli

By James Hunter

Sunderland's EFL Trophy game against Manchester United U21s may come a little too early for Arbenit Xhemajli to make his first-team comeback, according to Elliot Dickman.

Xhemajli returned to action at the weekend after 12 months out with a knee ligament injury, playing 45 minutes for the Black Cats' U23 side in their 2-1 Premier League Cup win against Leeds United at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland take on Manchester United's youngsters tomorrow in group stage of the Trophy, but it seems unlikely that the Kosovan international will start another game so soon after his outing on Sunday.

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"It might be a little bit early for Arby," admitted U23 coach Dickman.

"He's had a very bad injury and the medical staff here at the club will always be very thorough with their planning of his return to play.

It could be a bit early for him, but the manager will make the final decision on that.

"It was great to see him get 45 minutes on Sunday, though, and he was a great help to the younger players."

With a number of players away on international duty, a couple of players first-teamers nursing injuries, and with a busy schedule ahead in League One and the Carabao Cup, Sunderland boss Lee Johnson has already said that he will name a young side against Manchester United.

He made ten changes for last week's Trophy win at Lincoln and the side that lines up against Man U will, if anything, be even less experienced.

Because while he was happy to include first-teamers such as Alex Pritchard, Aiden O'Brien, and Dan Neil against the Imps ahead of a free weekend during the international break, this time he will be conscious of the weekend trip to Gillingham in the league.

Dickman was on media duties ahead of the Man U game and is set to be alongside Johnson in the dugout, which indicates that the vast majority of the side will be drawn from the U23 ranks.

But Dickman would not be drawn into specifics on team selection.

He said: "We're treating it as a first-team game. We want to be competitive and we want to try to win the game.

"We're the holders of the Trophy and whatever side goes out there tomorrow night, we want them to do right by the club and right by the fans.

"The manager is going to pick a side that's going to be competitive, and that can win the game.

"Exactly what that looks like is obviously his decision."

Luke O'Nien suffered a rib injury in the win at Lincoln within minutes of coming off the bench and as yet there has been no update on his condition.

But of the side that started at Lincoln, however, Dickman says there are no new injury concerns ahead of tomorrow's game.

"I think there were one or two little niggles, but those players are all fine now," he said.

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