Sheffield United: Why Chris Wilder’s choice of training camp might prove a good omen in the battle for promotion
It is probably fitting that Sheffield United have chosen Valencia, Spain's third largest city, as the location for this week's warm weather training camp.
Its historic cathedral, the Iglesia Catedral-Basílica Metropolitana de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de Valencia, claims to be the home of the Holy Grail. After entering the international break ranked second in the Championship following a hugely significant if not decisive victory over Leeds, Chris Wilder and his players are destined to spend the remainder of the season chasing their own footballing version; otherwise known as promotion to the Premier League.
Speaking after scoring the only goal of the game at Elland Road last weekend, it was Chris Basham who inadvertently let slip a plan which, despite not being a secret, had been kept off the media agenda during the build-up to the match.
"The gaffer is taking us somewhere special afterwards," he admitted. "The internationals will be going away with their countries but we're off somewhere nice as a group and taking the training kit."
Despite stressing those travelling would be packing their boots and GPS tracking bibs, Basham's use of the word 'special' suggested this will not be a particularly gruelling trip. Indeed, given the psychological demands being placed upon his players as they attempt to secure a top two finish, one hopes the emphasis will be on rest and relaxation rather than fine-tuning strategy for the final eight matches of the campaign. It will surely do them good to escape the spotlight, for a short while at least.
Four days before beating Marcelo Bielsa's side, a result which lifted his team above their neighbours in the rankings, Wilder provided an insight into how mentally and physically taxing professional sport can be.
"I don't think anyone is going to have any problem sleeping tonight," he said, after watching his squad successfully navigate its way through a tricky game against Brentford. "There won't be any celebrating. I'm straight to bed. And, like I say, there won't be any problems dropping off."
That fixture, following Gary Madine's first-half red card, proved the ultimate test of United's conditioning, tactical acumen and camaraderie. They passed - David McGoldrick's late header sealing the points following Oliver Norwood's early penalty - but Wilder acknowledged "there were some tired boys out there" during his post-game interviews in West Yorkshire.
Both United and Leeds, now a point behind Wilder's men, face potentially difficult assignments when the EFL schedule resumes on March 30. Bristol City, who are still eyeing play-off qualification despite going five matches without a win, travel to Bramall Lane while Bielsa's charges host Millwall. The Londoners might be flirting with relegation but usually bring their 'A Game' whenever they visit that corner of West Yorkshire.
Leeds will be without goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, after deciding not to appeal the red card he received towards the end of Saturday's defeat by United, while Pontus Jansson is a major doubt due to a knee injury. The centre-half has withdrawn from Sweden's forthcoming fixtures with Romania and Norway to undergo treatment.
United are thought to have no such concerns, although Madine will still be suspended for the clash with City and next month's awkward trip to Preston North End. Alex Neil's side are unbeaten in 12 and have not lost a league game at Deepdale since Boxing Day.
"It's a good position to be in, availability-wise," Wilder said. "And that's credit to the hard work of the fitness staff and also the way the lads have applied themselves to what we do.
"Everyone was looking forward to the game, but I've been consistent in what I've said, it was not a season-defining result, we are not into the last three or four games, we have eight games to go.
"I'm fully respectful of all the teams we've got to play, anyone can beat anyone at any given moment in this league. "We will rest, enjoy ourselves and then be back to work because with eight games left, now is the time for the big push."