Ahead of the visit of surprise package Sheffield United this weekend, TEB caught up with Ben Meakin from Blades Pod who we spoke to earlier in the season on their fantastic season so far, views on the game and much more.
Q. What did you make of the game at Bramall Lane earlier in the season?
A fairly forgettable one for the neutrals (and possibly Palace fans), but it was a big moment for us to get that first win so early in the season. We were tentative ourselves but defended really well and Palace barely had a shot in the ninety minutes. At the other end, we missed a few chances and were indebted to John Lundstram getting on the end of a loose ball to give us three points.
Q. It has been a fantastic season so far for you guys, what has been the secret?
Having an unbelievable manager who has been able to mould what worked last season to something that also works at a higher level. We’ve changed to a slightly more solid formation and moved away from a possession-heavy style to one that can press and strike quickly after winning the ball back. At the same time Wilder is still demanding standards of his players that sometimes makes the fans wince – it’s a cliche but he really is a winner. Not many newly-promoted managers would be expressing disappointment after a draw at Arsenal or a loss at Anfield.
Q. When we last spoke we asked about Chris Wilder still being boss come the end of the season, but is there a fear now of losing him to a club impressed with his success at Bramall Lane?
Actually, less than when we last spoke. The ownership situation that was lingering in the summer is now resolved, plans are being laid for the club’s future on and off the pitch, and Wilder himself just signed a new four and a half year contract. Throw in the “big clubs” myopia when it comes to managerial appointments and I don’t see him leaving any time soon.
Q. Have the Blades made any additions during the transfer window and any further expected incomings?
A couple of low-cost, low-risk defensive backups have been signed in the form of Jack Rodwell (unattached) and Jack Robinson (Nottingham Forest). They should be small but necessary upgrades to our squad depth. We’ve let Callum Robinson go on loan to WBA for the rest of the season so are likely to bring in another forward before the deadline, again probably as back-up. I’m not expecting this one to come off, but we’re currently in talks to sign highly-rated Norwegian midfielder Sander Berge, which I think says everything about how quickly we’ve progressed as a club in the last few years.
Q. The introduction of VAR this season has not gone to plan so far – what is your view of the system and how it is being used?
We’ve had some absolute VAR shockers this season, it’s not been fun at all. At times we’ve felt a bit like guinea pigs in some of the bizarre circumstances in which its been used in our game – the Lundstram “big toe” offside at Spurs, the Newcastle “play to the whistle” goal at Bramall Lane when the other 21 players stopped after the linesman put his flag up. Admittedly, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I didn’t find it hilarious when West Ham’s last minute equaliser against us was ruled out for handball. But even so, the implementation is shocking and it’s genuinely ruined “actual” goals for us where we’ve found ourselves hesitant to celebrate what should have been incredible moments (an equaliser at Spurs, an injury time goal against Man Utd). Having the most goals ruled out by VAR in the whole Premier League hasn’t helped either. The way it’s used for offsides needs a major rethink, and while it’s not VAR-related, that daft handball law needs scrapping too.
Q. Who will finish top four and bottom three this season?
I think it’ll finish as it is right now, likely in the same order: Liverpool, City, Leicester and Chelsea. I don’t think Chelsea are all that, but as I said at the start of the season I think their “floor” is higher than a lot of the other teams that are going through a transition season. At the bottom, Norwich are too far gone even with a few decent results in the last month or so. I’ve been banging the drum for Watford for most of the season (they’ve been more-or-less fine, just couldn’t finish in the first part of the season, then appointed a terrible manager, and are now piecing it together under Pearson) so I think they’ll stay up. I think West Ham are in real trouble and Bournemouth will be if they’re still in the bottom three at the end of February – they have some nice fixtures coming up.
Q. What have you made of Palace this season?
Classic recent Palace really, as far as a neutral is concerned – don’t score many goals, haven’t always looked inspiring, apart from when going up against a supposed big team or up in a dire situation (eg, being down to ten men at home to Bournemouth), at which point they come alive.
Q. Where do you see Palace and the Blades finishing?
Both will finish comfortably midtable, a top ten position come the end of the season for us would be fantastic in our first season back in the Premier League.
Q. Name one player from each side that will be the ones to watch in this fixture?
John Fleck is having an unbelievable season in midfield, given extra licence to get forward after our shift to a three in the middle. He has five goals this season which is more than his previous two seasons combined. For Palace, forgive the boring answer, but it’s always Zaha isn’t it? He was a non-factor at Bramall Lane and that was a big reason why we won that game.
Q. Your prediction?
We’ve been absurdly good away this season, and I fancy us to get another point here – 1-1.