Ahead of the visit of the Blades to Selhurst Park, we had a chat with the guys at BLADES POD about the season so far, thoughts on the game and much more.
Q. How did you rate the last campaign for the Blades?
Absolutely amazing, and elevated even further by what’s happening this season. We had a genuine chance of qualifying for Europe with about three games to go, which was just dreamland. We gave most of the big teams a serious game (taking four points off Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal) and played some great football along the way. Pre-Covid, it was some of the best times I can remember following the Blades – fantastic atmospheres home and away and an incredible connection between players and fans.
Q. What was the general view heading into the new season and what were the expectations?
I think most Blades expected a step back from last season’s 9th place finish, as our defence was out-of-this-world last season (only the top three conceded fewer goals). It was fair to assume that would be slightly worse, and as a team that didn’t create many chances, results were probably going to decline along with it. My own prediction was lower mid-table, around 14th. I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the nightmare that’s followed, as loss of fans, form and key players to injury have absolutely crushed us.
Q. After what has been a torrid start to the season for the Blades, will the club stick with Chris Wilder for the duration or do you think they will be forced into a change?
I think they will stick with him, and I hope they do. Ultimately this season is gone, and there’s absolutely no point changing manager unless you think the new man can do a better job of bringing us back to the Premier League. I don’t see that manager out there and Wilder deserves the chance to build the next great (by our standards) Sheffield United team – and in fact a lot of our signings seem to have been made with the next couple of seasons in mind, regardless of what division we’re in.
Q. It was a peculiar summer transfer window for everyone, but how active were United and are there any areas that will need attention in January?
We were active but frustrated, as we ended up priced out of our top targets. It says a lot about our relative financial state that newly-promoted Fulham were able to offer a better wage to Wigan’s Antonee Robinson, for example. We needed a goalkeeper after Dean Henderson returned to Manchester United and all being well Aaron Ramsdale will be the man for the next 5+ years, even allowing for a mixed start since signing. We signed cover at a range of positions, and that’s the main criticism: very few of our signings (if any) have improved our first team, and in some cases we’ve taken a step back. Rhian Brewster was the man we hoped would deliver some goals to get us out of this hole but we’ve been so uncreative that he’s barely had a sniff.
Q. We are keen to see young players coming through the ranks here at TEB so is there anyone that we should keep an eye on who could make the breakthrough into the Blades first eleven?
The young players who are closest to the first team are currently out on loan, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rhys Norrington-Davies (recently capped by Wales) come back into the fold in January as an option at left wing-back and possibly left centre-back, where we’ve had a nightmare time trying to replace the injured Jack O’Connell.
Q. The Premier League has looked pretty open so far this season, do you see that continuing into being the most open title race for years?
Probably, seeing as it’s a completely unusual set of circumstances. I’m still waiting for Manchester City to get their act together but that said, I do think it’ll be them or Liverpool who ultimately take the title.
Q. The use of VAR continues to frustrate everyone, so where do you sit with the ongoing debate?
I mind it a lot less now that we’re not actually at the games! But it was a rotten experience last season. The marginal offsides are painful and I lost count of the amount of times I didn’t celebrate a goal “properly” because of a fear that someone’s toenail would be offside.
Q. What do you make of Palace this season?
I recently likened Palace to a drunk version of Burnley (which I mean with total respect to both teams): the highs are higher, the lows are lower, and you’re always going to finish clear of trouble at the end of the season. From what I’ve seen it just looks a similar set-up to last season: a good counter-attacking team that can destroy someone on its day or flop on another. I’m also a big fan of Eberechi Eze – a player I’ve been hoping we would sign for a couple of years, exactly the sort of player we don’t have.
Q. Name one player from each team that you believe will be a threat to the opposition in this match.
It’s always Zaha, isn’t it? We actually played him really well in our two games last season (probably why we won both, actually) but he’s such a threat and I’m sure you’re well aware of the win/loss splits when he does/doesn’t play. As for us, David McGoldrick is the only attacker who can hold his head up high this season, and we’ve recently started giving him a bit more of a free reign to roam about – so if anything good should happen for us, it will probably be down to him.
Q. …and finallly, your all important prediction?
The one silver lining from this season is that I’ll have pretty much paid for my next season ticket by the end of it, just from backing the opposition. I’ve said this for many other previews, so here it goes again: we rarely score (8 in 16 games), we always concede (0 clean sheets), and we almost always lose by a single goal (11 out of 14 defeats). But hey, let’s be optimistic and say we’ll actually score this time. 2-1 Palace.