View from behind the Pillar: Blades XI versus Bournemouth
by Sam Parry
Sheffield United deserved to win the League One title and gain promotion to the Premier League. This season, whether we lay our hat on the top peg or the bottom, it will be on merit. The league table never lies (unless you are Brentford, and even then, at least expected goals elicits as much kudos as real ones).
As the Premier League opens for business this weekend, the Blades will need to demonstrate their peak-powers to register the necessary xG or G to trouble Bournemouth AFC. In this article we assess what team Chris Wilder might pick for the job at hand.
There are guaranteed starters. It would take an injury to prevent the core team from playing. Either that or a fantastical scheme involving polyjuice potion, Chris Wilder's hair and a loon-eyed wizard intent on screwing over the gaffer and establishing Voldemort as world overlord.
I see it like this: Dean Henderson starts. Jack O'Connell starts. Jon Egan, Enda Stevens, John Fleck, and Oliver Norwood all start. Basham starts, and I place him last because, out of the 'core', he's the one about whom I have most reservations (not so many for him not to make the XI).
So the starting XI looks like this thus far:
No need to spend too much time on this one because I think we all know who Wilder is picking. For me, George Baldock and Kieran Freeman are like Oasis and Blur. They are Britpop. You ask me which flavour I prefer, and I tell you, "they are both alright, but I think Blur fractionally edge it".
Blur is Freeman, and Wilder is an Oasis man. No complaints from me about that.
FKA the 'Duffy Role'
In this XI, I have quite clearly organised the team into the 3-4-1-2. We all know this formation as intimately as the back of our hands, and much better than most of our work colleagues. In that pocket behind the strikers - the number ten role, if you will - we are used to seeing Mark Duffy strutting his stuff and generally assisting the assists, or assisting the assiting assist.
But those times are over, at least for this week. Duffy's kicked up a stink over his request for a contract, and he's not in the frame until the situation changes (if you want to read about that, we wrote an article about it last week).
Luke Freeman, brought in over the summer as a like for like replacement, will presumably take that spot. He's looked very tidy in pre-season and, importantly, rather Duffy-like. My only reservation here is that we have seen the flat 3 in midfield crop up over the summer, and if Wilder opts for that, he might play Lundstram instead. The gaffer won't do that though, will he? For Coutts' sake; please no!
Freeman it is, and now we're shaping up.
My nan is diabetic. She always has to hand hot chocolate sachets of every conceivable genre. You know the stuff. Belgian Chocolate and some added synthetic bullshit. Mint or butterscotch or honeycomb or caramel or whatever. She thinks she's got Options, but she's got nowt on Chris Wilder:
Billy Sharp, Oliver McBurnie, David McGoldrick, Lys Mousset and Callum Robinson. Which two make it?
Let's start by ruling one of them out: Lys Mousset. He won't make the first XI after a stop-start-stop pre-season. He needs to build fitness and Wilder has said as much. It'll be two of the others that get the nod.
I say: He'll start with McBurnie.
You say: I can't see it.
I say: I can't see Wilder not putting faith in the man upon whom he's just spent the best part of £20 million.
You can say what you like in return, I am right. Okay, I might be wrong. But I honestly don't see a different outcome.
One argument offered up to the contrary might be that, if Freeman plays the number ten role, then the team need more continuity up front. You might need players that can read one another's games and create more fluency. I take that point. I very much agree with that logical actually, but I apply it differently.
I think McBurnie starts up front...with David McGoldrick.
Yes, I know Callum Robinson has looked as sparky as gas hob auto-igniter throughout pre-season, but I reckon Wilder might opt for some natural flow from the Championship to Prem. And if he does, I think he gives Didzy the nod over Billy Sharp.
Voted as the player of the season in the promotion campaign, McGoldrick can hold the ball up, he has excellent vision, he can keep it simple when needed, he picks a pass, he can drop into a two with Luke Freeman if needs be and he offers a lot off the ball too. We're going to need that; we'll rely on the pressing game that Didzy offers for 60-70 minutes because Bournemouth are a side who play it out from the back. (And also, Callum Robinson on as a sub with twenty to go kinda feels right.) Also, let's not forget that Didzy found the back of the net last year, he hardly lacks goal threat; he poached last season with scruffy striker goals and he curled them in from 25-yards too.
There is another, more playful reason too. If McGoldrick and McBurnie play together, there will be a certain synergy, an interconnectedness. Like bread on top of burger on top of bread on top of burger on top of bread, they will form the BIG MAC.
With that thought lodged in my brain just before lunchtime, I can sense the liquid football yet to come, and it tastes just like sweet, sweet burger sauce.
So here's the final XI. Agree? Disagree? Have I lost the plot? Comments below...