Blades restart: what’s in store?
Sheffield United’s previous Premier League game took place on 7 March of this year, and I can't remember a thing about it. Usually, I can remember the final game of the season before football takes a hiatus in the summer. But it's restarting in summer instead. And taking the place of what should have been an international tournament, one which may have seen Sheffield United on the world stage. Which, in turn, could have provided vital experience for their upcoming maiden voyage into the Europa League or the Champions League. It seems like a work of fiction that a global pandemic was the thing to put it all to halt.
In preparation of our visit to Villa Park I thought it’d be a good idea to look at what lies ahead for the Blades over the next 6 weeks.
What to do with John Lundstram
Depending on what you read and whether you choose to believe it or not. John Lundstram’s days at Sheffield United could be numbered.
There is no doubting that Lundstram has been a revelation this season, and surely not even John himself could have expected his meteoric rise. From the first game of our Premier League campaign to the winner off the bench against Bournemouth in the Blades’ last league win in February. He has consistently exceeded all expectations.
But so has Chris Wilder and the rest of the Sheffield United team. Since they matched expectations in finally getting promoted from League One in the 2016/2017 season, United have proven how vital togetherness and team ethic are to what they are trying to do.
If reports are to be believed, then Lundstram looks to have had his name turned by an unnamed Premier League club who are in a position to offer more money, and like in any walk of life, a better-paid job is going to make someone consider their options. Lundstram’s contract expires at the end of June and there is an option to extend that for a further 12 months and if he still doesn’t look to agree to extend further when that clause is triggered. It would still make sense for the club to cash in.
But who’s to say these contracts are still likely to be bandied about to a player who has had one good half-season (and a bit) in the top flight after what has happened to Football’s finances over the past few months?
Luckily January’s reinforcing of the squad could have already provided the Blades with solutions, which brings me on to…
What kind of Sander Berge are we going to see?
Berge had played already 31 games this season for KRC Genk before signing for Sheffield United on the final day of the January Transfer Window, in some ways the break will have done the Norweigian international good. In other ways, it means he still may need some time to adjust to the pace and intensity of the Premier League.
But, the playing field has been levelled somewhat, everyone is going to have to adjust after 3 months off, no one is going to be ‘match fit’ for the first few games and whilst expectation will be there. There should also be an element of understanding.
Judgement won't be passed on Berge until next season, but it’ll be interesting to see if he gets an opportunity to play in his favoured role sitting deeper in the midfield, a role which Oli Norwood occupies or whether he continues to play on the right-hand side of the midfield three.
Have other teams ‘figured us out’?
It’s almost a cliche these days considering what pundits and fans of other clubs have said about the Blades over the past few years but who knows?
We’re a difficult team to play through. The two best sides in the division had to work hard for their 3 points, and the fact that United haven’t been battered this season shows we're not your typical newly promoted fodder. The defeat to Newcastle was only a result of the away side sitting deep and getting us on the break, aided by no one knowing whether to play to the whistle or not. Something you can’t see the teams around us with the same ambition doing. So what will these teams be doing to make us lose our shape and stop our passing combinations?
Managers and their backroom staff have had a decent amount of time to study other teams, so we could see some new ideas.
Could the 3-4-1-2 make its return?
With 5 of the Blades’ last 10 fixtures being against opposition also in the hunt for European football next season, it would come as a surprise. But it might be something to consider when chasing a game and maybe something to use more frequently next season when teams are more familiar with Wilders system.
We aren’t shy of players who can play in the 'Duffy role'. McGoldrick's movement, work rate and vision make him a prime candidate, Berge played a similar role at times in the FA cup win over Reading and Luke Freeman can also play as a 10.
With the likes of Zivkovic still to come into the fold, it’d also be nice to a 3-4-3 possibly, with Zivkovic cutting in from either flank and utilising his pace and with both Freemans also being able to play in wide forward positions it may be something worth considering.
Oh and we’re still in with a shout of winning the FA Cup, which would be a fantastic way to finish the greatest and most surreal season of most United fans lifetimes.