Opposition Focus: Sheffield Utd


Image: Premier League

Daniel Smith spoke to Ben from BladesPod to get a Sheffield Utd perspective ahead of Sunday’s lunch time kick-off…

Sheffield Utd vs Fulham: What’s the first thing that comes to mind from years gone by? 

Our FA Cup win at Craven Cottage in 2013 – awful weather, awful match, but a 120th minute winner in front of the travelling Blades fans that kickstarted our run to the semi final and turned our season round.

You’ve experienced the Premier League, Championship and League One in the past five years. Which is the most enjoyable to compete in from a fans point of view?

For all its flaws, it has to be the Premier League. Assuming we ever get back to being able to attend, there’s just nothing like it. Each home game last season was an event with a great atmosphere where every tackle, cross, dribble, shot and clearance felt like a big deal. I have some nostalgic fondness for the League One days where we sometimes made up more than half of the attendance at away games, but we also had five seasons of misery at that level.

It doesn’t matter much this season with no fans in the ground but in general do you miss not playing Sheffield Wednesday when you aren’t in the same division?

Nope! I’d happily never play them again. Our 4-2 win at Hillsborough in 2017 will do as the final exclamation point on derby history. A win so resounding that Wednesday have been in all-out-defence mode in every rematch since, all finishing 0-0.

Last season you finished 9th which is still a very impressive season. But if the season hadn’t been interrupted, where do you think your momentum would have taken you?

I think it was less momentum and more the new circumstances catching up with us. Our small squad was stretched beyond its limits by having to play so many games in a short space, and injuries finally kicked in too which didn’t help. I’m sure lots of clubs’ fans think this but I’m sure we’re hindered by the lack of fans too. If the season had played out normally I think we definitely had a shot at sneaking into a Europa League place, which still sounds vaguely insane.

You were lauded for your unique system last season with over lapping centre backs. This campaign has obviously been a slow burner so far. Is it a case of the squad just overachieving last season or has Wilder’s plan been sussed out by other managers?

Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong this season, with the abbreviated preseason not helping. Jack O’Connell is so key to our attack as well as defence and he’s now out for the season. John Fleck was masterful last season and he’s not been fit yet. John Egan was sent off for a ludicrous decision against Villa, and is now in self-isolation after an Ireland teammate tested positive for Covid. I could go on but the short answer is injuries, bad luck and general disjointedness so far.

When we were promoted in 2018, a lot of our fans were sad to see Ollie Norwood’s loan not made permanent. Is he good enough for the Premier League based on what you’ve seen of him? 

He was excellent for us last season, when he played well, we played well. His passing is some of the best I’ve ever seen at the Lane and he was also one of the top midfielders in the league for interceptions and ball recoveries over the whole year. I’m baffled that he hasn’t started the last few games and really think we’ve missed him. I definitely want him back in the team on Sunday.

Are you happy with the business you’ve done in this window?

Yes, acknowledging that we don’t have the financial clout of almost every team in the league, including the three newly promoted ones. We needed a number 1 and Aaron Ramsdale has big potential. We also needed quality cover in defence and wingback and Ethan Ampadu, Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe should give us that. The one knock is that the only signing to actually improve our first XI (at least at this stage) is Rhian Brewster – although we’re excited to see what he can bring, and he should make his debut this weekend.

We are only 4 games in to the season but both clubs have zero points alongside Burnley. Is Sunday’s game a must win for both sides already?

That’s not how I’m looking at it, at least. Going into last season my question was, can we win 10-12 games? Obviously the longer we go without a win (and our next few games are pretty brutal) the harder it’s going to be, but we saw last season that we’re pretty good and we have an excellent manager (who we won’t panic and sack) so I’ll keep the faith.

Top 4 and Bottom 3 predictions?

I’m going to stick with what I said preseason and not kneejerk away my predictions.

Top 4: Man City, Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea – in that order.

Relegated: West Brom, Fulham (sorry), Newcastle.

How do you see the game panning out?

I’m not expecting a particularly entertaining game to be honest. Forget the fact there’s a lot at stake, we’re just missing so many players that it’s going to be hard to patch something together that works fluidly. We’re probably relying on Brewster and Oli McBurnie to hit off on an immediate partnership (assuming one or both are actually fit to play).

Sheffield Utd 1-1 Fulham

Thanks to Ben from BladesPod for answering our questions. Check out their match preview podcast ahead of the game here.