Coronavirus, a captain's goal and another Sheffield United win
The Star’s James Shield discusses some of the major talking points to emerge from Sheffield United’s latest Premier League victory, this time beating Norwich City 1-0 at Bramall Lane.
A Fine Day for: Billy Sharp, whose goal secured this win, Dean Henderson, who produced another moment of brilliance to keep Norwich at bay, and of course United as a whole. Chris Wilder’s side finished this match sixth in the table and with a game in hand on many of those around them in the rankings. Sharp pounced in the 36th minute when, after drifting away from his marker, he headed home John Lundstram’s cross. A decoy run from George Baldock created enough time and space for the midfielder to deliver the perfect centre, which also proved tempting for Oli McBurnie. The visitors had their moments before the interval but afterwards, during a spell of pressure towards the end of the second period, Henderson came into his own; making a superb block to deny substitute Mario Vrancic at the foot of a post. David McGoldrick then hacked clear as Josip Drmic, who had also come on for Norwich, attempted to bundle the ball over the line. Henderson also denied Jamal Lewis and, in the process, surely took another step towards his first senior England cap.
You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down: Or a good striker either. Sharp was supposedly too old, too slow and too predictable to make an impression at Premier League level. Just like he was supposedly too old, too slow and too predictable to score goals in the Championship last term, when his return of 24 in 42 outings helped United secure promotion. Having spent long periods on the bench since then, Sharp - United’s captain, leader and already a legend - was recently given his chance in the starting eleven by Wilder and has repaid that faith three fold, converting for the third time in four outings - two of those at PL level - towards the end of the first-half here. Sharp, never the quickest in the world, even in his younger years, might have lost a little pace. But, now aged 34, experience means he probably thinks faster than he has ever done. Which explains how he was able to escape his marker - and position himself perfectly in the box - to head home Lundstram’s cross.
It was a Big Call: Or was it? Probably not so big as might first seem the case when you consider United’s decision to select Lundstram ahead of Sander Berge, their record signing, in the starting line-up. Berge, who despite being experienced is still only 22 years of age, has demonstrated his technical prowess since arriving in England two months ago. But inevitably the pace of the English game, much quicker and more gruelling than that of Belgium’s Jupiler League, where he used to ply his trade for Genk, will take some getting used to for the Norway international. Lundstram, a driving force behind United’s climb into European contention during the first-half of the campaign, could count himself desperately unlucky to have surrendered his starting place. But he has responded with some excellent performances since, meaning Wilder had no hesitation in selecting him here. Lundstram wasn’t at his best. But he did provide the cross for Sharp’s strike. It is also becoming apparent, despite seemingly being in direct competition at present, they are very different players with Lundstram more comfortable going forward and Berge preferring to dictate from deep.
Blind Panic: If some people are to be believed, this was the last match anyone aged 70 plus will be able to attend at Bramall Lane until at least the start of the start of the next millennium. Coronavirus, which despite currently affecting around 0.0002 per cent of the population has provoked the type of hysteria not seen since the days of bubonic plague, has already been responsible for wiping out the traditional pre-match handshakes. Now, as the great medical minds at the Premier and English Football leagues prepare for a Cobra-style meeting on Monday, it seems as if septuagenarians, octogenarians and anyone in their nineties or hundreds could be prohibited from watching football matches to try and limit the contagian. Presumably other places which attract mass gatherings of people, such as Meadowhall or the intu Chapelfield shopping centre in Norwich, will be subject to the same draconian measures. No, I thought not.
Some People Never Learn: United’s climb into European contention has been the talk of the top-flight this season. Not least because, at the start of the campaign, plenty of folk were predicting they would already be relegated by now; particularly if Chris Wilder persisted, which he has, with his policy of combining attacking wing-backs with overlapping centre-halves. Marcelo Bielsa has deemed the system worthy of study. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp both spoke of their fascination with it not so long ago. It hasn’t impressed everyone however, with one newspaper in East Anglia describing it as “dour”, “drab”, “uninspiring” and “boring, albeit effective in joining the Pulis, Allardyce and Bruce school of safe hands football.” Personally, I’m a big fan of Daniel Farke’s expansive approach. But there must be something else pretty special going on elsewhere in Norfolk if United can be dismissed as footballing Neanderthals. Because Barcelona they ain’t either. United, not for the first time in recent months, had the last laugh.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Stevens (Osborn 60), Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Lundstram, Sharp (McGoldrick 71), McBurnie (Berge 90). Not used: Verrips, Jagielka, Mousset, Retsos.
Norwich City: Krul, Aarons, Godfrey, Hanley, Lewis, Cantwell (Drmic 46), Buendia, Pukki, McLean, Duda (Idah 87), Tettey (Vrancic 66). Not used: Zimmermann, Rupp, Stiepermann, McGovern.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).