The big decision Sheffield United face over duo's involvement as they battle for Premier League survival
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has conceded it could be Christmas until Lys Mousset and John Fleck rediscover their best form following injury but is preparing to guide the duo through one of the busiest periods on the club’s fixture schedule as he seeks to arrest his team’s slump in form.
United enter Sunday’s home game against Leicester City at the foot of the table after losing nine and drawing one of their opening 10 games this term, with Wilder acknowledging it is “vital” his squad “establishes a foothold” in the division or risk surrendering its Premier League status.
Fleck’s absence for long periods - he has missed more than half of United’s outings since returning to competition three months ago with a back complaint - coupled with Mousset’s need to undergo tie surgery has been a major factor behind United’s poor start to the new campaign.
Although both men featured during last weekend’s defeat by fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion, Wilder acknowledged neither is fully match fit or sharp after spending time on the treatment table.
“Lys would have been able to do 15 minutes at best,” Wilder said, after the French centre-forward made his first outing since July. “He’s been out for a while, the same as John, and so we can’t expect him to be firing on all cylinders straight away. In fact, we can’t expect either of them to be doing that because that’s not the way this game works.
“We’ve got to be careful with them, not to ask too much too soon, because they’re such important players for us and we don’t want to risk losing them again. But at the same time, we need them out there because we need to get back to winning ways.”
Although he missed a superb chance to equalise towards the end of United’s visit to The Hawthorns, Mousset’s presence promises to reinvigorate an attack whose confidence has been drained in recent weeks. Indeed, despite also having the likes of Billy Sharp, Oliver Burke and Oli McBurnie at his disposal, the former AFC Bournemouth striker could form a potentially exciting partnership with record signing Rhian Brewster over the festive period; providing United with a much-needed injection of pace.
Mousset is expected to again start on the bench when Brendan Rodgers’ men, who suffered a shock defeat by Fulham on Monday evening, make the journey north. Fleck will feature in United’s first choice eleven, unless he suffers any adverse reaction to his recent workload. Enda Stevens and Ethan Ampadu could also be available for selection after missing the trip to the Midlands with leg and hip issues respectively.
“Getting minutes under the belt will do Lys and John the power of good though,” Wilder said. “With everything that’s going on with Covid-19, we can’t really give them behind closed doors games or reserve team fixtures to help them get up to speed so they’ll have to do it all out there for real as it were.”
"In normal circumstances, we’d be doing things a little bit differently,” Wilder added. “I think we all understand that. But, as we also know, these are anything but normal circumstances. It’s probably not idea, in fact it isn’t ideal. But we just have to get on with it.”