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How does Lee Johnson keep his big squad happy when he can’t give them all playing time?

Lee Johnson has a fully-fit squad to pick from, and that means we have pretty much another starting eleven of players that we could field at any given time. How do you suggest he keeps his big squad happy?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tom Albrighton says...

Keeping a winning squad happy isn’t always the easiest task when the starting eleven picks itself, so Johnson may have to get creative with how he keeps those out of the squad involved.

Firstly, he has to maintain fair levels of rotation within the squad, be it being part of the matchday squad or a wider rotation in cup games. As the season goes on injuries and suspensions will offer opportunities - like Tom Flanagan’s impending suspension for the trip to Fleetwood. Ensuring fair rotation based on both on-field and training performance allows players the opportunity to maintain interest going forward.

Giving players non-playing roles in and around both the training ground and dressing room will ensure players are continually engaged and focused. This can come in many forms, whether it’s forming training groups, allowing experienced players to mentor our younger contingent or allowing them input into training and development.

Off the pitch, allowing players regular time out to enjoy extracurricular activities or bonding experiences will allow a tighter bond to form between the squad as a whole - such as charity work, or wider community engagement.

Maintaining absolute harmony is far from easy, but allowing players to have specific roles within a team could really benefit the club as a whole.

Blackpool v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Phil West says...

With a squad that is now deeper and stronger than we’ve had for quite some time, it’s perfectly natural that Lee Johnson will have to balance players’ desire to play regularly with the needs of the team. Competition for places will be quite fierce, and that is no bad thing.

To a large extent, I think the issue will be kept in hand as a result of the very strong team spirit that we are clearly building. I get the sense that each and every player understands that the bigger picture, namely achieving promotion, has to be the determining factor in team selection.

In 1998/99, when Michael Bridges was really shining, he was often used as a substitute and rarely let Peter Reid down. With this squad, I think it’s important that the likes of Nathan Broadhead and Leon Dajaku, to name two players, are patient and fully ready to perform when their chances come.

I’m sure that Johnson will be assuring them that, with such a packed schedule, they will be provided with opportunities to show what they’re capable of. All a player might need is one opportunity, and all of a sudden, they’ll be right at the forefront of his thinking, and he’ll definitely be reminding them of that.

Trust between players and the manager has to be unshakable, and I do feel that we are in that situation now.

I think that Johnson is the kind of manager who rewards both patience on behalf of his players. He doesn’t seem to be in a rush to throw all of our newer signings into the mix at once, and that’s not a problem.

With the team performing so well, that’s a luxury he can certainly afford!

Blackpool v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Gary Engel says...

With the League One fixture list there are midweek matches throughout the season, even as young as our side is, they can’t play 3 matches in 8 days week in, week out.

I think there will be plenty of opportunities for our large squad of players to get game time. Johnson has already made sweeping changes in the cup matches so far this season, and I think this will happen again in the upcoming League Cup match at Wigan. It's a chance to play for places, and looking at Embleton and Neil, it just goes to show how to make the most of opportunities and stake a claim.

After all, Evans and Pritchard would have been expected guaranteed starters in Sunderland’s starting eleven before pre-season got underway.

Fair play - Johnson has set out his stall this season, he knows which way he wants to play and although certain players bring different strengths to the table, we do effectively have two starting elevens that can play the same (preferred) 4-2-3-1 system.

Personally, when the back five are fit, or available, while winning matches there’s no question they should play the league fixtures. But further forward when our momentum is established, the rest should be quite interchangeable - apart from perhaps Ross Stewart and Aiden McGeady, at this moment in time. The squad we have now is a luxury Johnson should, over the course of the coming months, use to the maximum to avoid tired legs, keep things fresh and play the in-form side at that time.

We’ve twice in the past three seasons ran out of steam towards the end of the campaign, but there should be no reason we fail because of that this time around.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Joseph Tulip says...

It’s great that we have a big squad of fully fit players, ready and hungry to make their mark this season. But, things can change very quickly in football and we are very early into a long campaign of league and cup fixtures.

Last season we were enjoying a great run of form before our season imploded in the final run-in, when injuries at the back finally took their toll, and our makeshift back four was eventually exposed to the rigours of League One football.

We now have more strength in depth, and the suspension of Tom Flanagan will provide an opportunity for either Bailey Wright or Frederick Alves, but you never know when other players will be ruled out due to injury, suspension or even Covid, which remains a threat to us all.

As we saw last season, once we get into the meat of the season, our squad depth will be put to the test and we’ll need the fringe players to be ready to step up. Unfortunately, an injury crisis can hit any club at any time.

For now, we’ll make hay while the sun shines and with promotion our number one priority, I’d use the cup games to keep the likes of Niall Huggins, Alves, Broadhead and the returning Denver Hume involved.

If we can start putting teams out of sight in the league, like we could easily have done with Accrington on Saturday, we can make maximum use of substitutions.

Naturally, midweek games will allow for rotation to keep everyone fresh, and to rest senior players including the aging McGeady, who shouldn’t have to start 46 league games for us to win promotion.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Play-off Semi Final 2nd Leg Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images
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