With the opening game out of the way, it is time for the Eagles to hit the road. Our first trip of the new season is to Bramall Lane to take on newly promoted Sheffield United so we had a chat with the guys at the excellent Blades Pod on their hopes for the season ahead.
Q. First things first, welcome back to the Premier League. How does it feel?
Thank you, and it feels fantastic. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we were in League One three seasons ago, so there’s still something slightly unreal about being back in the top division.
Q. Did you expect to get out of the Championship last season in what was a ridiculously competitive division once again?
Personally – and from what I’ve seen, this was a fairly widely-held view – most United fans were hopeful that we could get into the play offs, but that was about the limit of our expectations. I knew that we’d strengthened in key areas last season – John Egan and Oli Norwood looked like they’d be great buys, and that’s exactly how it panned out – but I still thought it would be difficult. As it happens, we were much better than expected and some of the heavy hitters – WBA, Stoke, even Villa for two-thirds of the season – were much worse.
Q. It was 2006/07 that United were last in the Premier League – what do you remember about that season?
I suppose there’s only one place to start, and that’s the near-farcical nature of our relegation with the Carlos Tevez affair. To be clear, if I was to blame anything for our relegation, it would be our inability to beat Wigan on the last day of the season – although then it would have been the Latics having the same feeling of wrongdoing that we experienced. There were so many fine margins that season, and they all added up to us going down by 1 single goal on goal difference, having got 38 points which is one of the higher totals that a team has been relegated with.
But there were some great moments too. Beating Arsenal 1-0 with Phil Jagielka playing in goal for the last 30 minutes. Jags’ 95th-minute winner to get our first win against Middlesbrough. Hammering the Hammers 3-0 at the Lane, with Chris Morgan getting away with a wrestling move on Tevez. Just a shame – and a minor miracle, really – that they had the last laugh.
NEW POD! Bournemouth reaction and analysis with @Panchero, plus Mark Duffy memories (😢), Besic / Verrips signings, and a Palace preview – get it here:
— BladesPod (@bladespod) August 12, 2019
Q. What are you hoping for this season compared with how the Blades will fare this season?
Obviously I’m hoping we stay up, and I think we’re well-equipped to give it our best shot. We play on the front-foot and go for wins rather than draws, and I think that will put us in good stead against teams in the lower third of the Premier League who play a little more conservatively. Of course we’re going to lose a ton of games, but I fancy us to pick up the 10 wins or so that should see us to safety.
Q. Chris Wilder has done a great job since becoming manager in 2016, are you hoping that whatever happens he is still boss come the end of the season?
Absolutely. Even if we finished 20th I doubt there’ll be less than 99% of Blades who would want anyone other than Wilder to have the chance to bring us back up. What he’s done for us in the last three years has been nothing short of miraculous. It’s some of the best times any of us have experienced at the club, with a combination of great football and a real bond between fans, players and management.
Q. How has the summer transfer window been for the club – were all needs addressed?
I’m not sure it could have gone better, to be honest. We did exactly what I hoped and picked off some of the best attacking talent in the Championship in Callum Robinson, Luke Freeman and Oli McBurnie. We also have a few wildcard signings in Lys Mousset and Ravel Morrison – suddenly we’re flush with dynamic, fast attackers who can create something out of nothing, which was perhaps the one flaw you could find in our team last season. Ben Osborn should give us cover at left wing-back, and Dean Henderson returns on loan from Manchester United having kept 21 clean sheets for us last season and become a fan favourite. Speaking of which, Phil Jagielka’s return is a nice bonus even if he’ll only be a squad player.
The big thing for me was to get the overall age of the squad down, and apart from Jagielka all of our signings are in the 23-27 range. Best of all, should we go down, we theoretically are very well-equipped to come straight back up, and we haven’t killed ourselves financially.
Q. Who do you expect to shine for the Blades this season?
I’m really excited to see how David McGoldrick will do. This is a player released by Ipswich last summer (Ipswich subsequently finished bottom) but won our Player of the Season award after joining on a free. Very skillful with fantastic vision, he’s a forward who drops deeper to link everything together – he was a hugely important cog for us last year. Callum Robinson has lit it up during preseason and that, coupled with what I saw from him at Preston, gives me hope that he’ll take the step up.
Q. If you could pick one Palace player to sign, who would it be and why?
I was going to say Luka Milivojevic here as we were short on a defensive midfielder to break up play and progress the ball to our attack, but then we signed Mo Besic on loan from Everton on deadline day, presumably for that exact role. So, of course, the answer is Wilfried Zaha – he’s surely the difference between a relegation fight and a comfortable mid-table finish.
Q. Name a player from each side that you believe will be a threat in this game?
Andros Townsend got a bit of stick from us when we played Spurs in the League Cup semi-finals a few years ago after some perceived penalty box flopping, but he is one of those players who’s a constant danger. For the Blades, at this stage it’s difficult to know which of our attackers will be in the final eleven, so I’ll go left-field – literally – and pick our left wing-back, Enda Stevens, who created and scored plenty of goals for us last season.
Q. Perhaps you could share your opinions on Palace both as a club and what you expect from us this season?
I have a lot of bad memories of Palace to be perfectly honest – the 1997 Play Off Final was a sickener and we also missed out on promotion at Selhurst Park in 2009, albeit due to results elsewhere. Remarkably though, I don’t hold a grudge. I like Roy Hodgson a lot, and you have good attacking players which makes for an exciting watch.
Sending Sheffield Wednesday down in 2010 was nice of you, too.
I’m sure you won’t be happy to hear it, but I do wonder if Palace will be in the cluster of teams we’re trying to finish above. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was phenomenal defensively so that’s a big hole to fill. As an outsider, it doesn’t look like you’ve hugely strengthened in the summer, with veteran signings rather than exciting ones. Of course, hanging onto Zaha could probably be viewed as one of the best bits of business done by any side in the window
I’d be very surprised if you got relegated as you have a good coach, good players, and an actual structure / gameplan. But I’d probably guess somewhere in that 14th-16th range.
Q. Your prediction?
I think we’re going to be a tough match for most teams at home this season – I’ll go 2-1 Blades.