The dilemma Sheffield United are facing about the immediate future of Lys Mousset
The scale of the challenge Sheffield United face in order to ensure Lys Mousset is fit enough to start Premier League matches has been laid bare after Chris Wilder revealed the “ideal scenario” would be to declare the centre-forward unavailable for selection until March as he battles back from toe surgery.
With United embroiled in an increasingly desperate battle for survival after losing all but two of their opening 15 games, the sight of Mousset returning to action following three months on the sidelines has raised hopes a season which already appears destined to end in relegation can still be salvaged.
However, speaking ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Burnley, where his squad will hope to record their first win of the campaign, Wilder told The Star the Frenchman is still struggling with the after-effects of the operation surgeons performed in August to repair the damage he sustained during a friendly against Preston North End.
“It’s just a recovery thing with Lys,” Wilder said, confirming Mousset is being nursed through fixtures by United’s medical staff. “The ideal scenario would be to leave him out for two months and let him get properly sorted but, the trouble is, you just can’t do that now.
“He’s been so unfortunate, to be fair. He goes over (against Preston) and everybody just thinks someone had trod on his foot; myself included. Then, when we realised it was more serious, he’s been constantly playing catch-up. And he’s a very influential player, as we know.”
After finding themselves 11 points adrift of 17th placed Burnley following Saturday’s defeat by Everton, United have little choice but to try and improve Mousset’s conditioning through a series of cameo appearances rather than allowing him to complete a proper rehabilitation programme. Efforts to get a player who scored five times during an explosive 10 game spell last term fully up to speed are being complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic; which is preventing clubs from arranging behind closed doors matches.
Using events during the 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion earlier this month to highlight the difficulties coaching staff face when deciding when and where to call upon Mousset’s services, Wilder explained: “When we had to rearrange things quite early on there (following John Lundstram’s red card), that was too early to put Lys on - he wouldn’t have been able to complete the game.
“It’s a decision to manage him between myself and the medical people, that’s where we’re at with it, but we’ve seen what he is capable of during those times when he has got out there. We’ve all seen the qualities he’s got during those 20 and 25 minutes off the bench.”
With his fellow strikers Oli Burke (back) and Oli McBurnie (shoulder) both doubtful for the trip to Lancashire, United face another difficult dilemma about the extent of Mousset’s role at Turf Moor where they will encounter opponents also fighting to preserve their top-flight status.
McBurnie received a pain killing injection before the meeting with Carlo Ancelotti’s side, but finished a contest settled by Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 80th minute strike in obvious discomfort following an accidental collision with a defender.
“Oli McBurnie put his hand up,” Wilder said. “He had a really heavy fall, had an injection. He had a car crash with their centre half. So his commitment should never be doubted and it will never be doubted by me. Eighty percent of footballers would never have put their hand up to play in those circumstances. But he did. And that tells you something.”
Injuries have been a source of near constant frustration for United in recent weeks, with Wilder believing they go a long way towards explaining why a team which finished ninth last term now finds itself at the bottom of the table.
Jack O’Connell, a vital cog in the 3-5-2 system United utilised to such good effect during their two promotions under Wilder, has not featured since September after finally succumbing to a long-standing knee issue.
“I know, in the old days, people were used to seeing players going out there and carrying knocks,” Wilder said, underlining the differences between O’Connell’s situation and the one Mousset finds himself in. “Jack managed his knee for years before we finally had to say ‘enough is enough’ and get something done about it. But with Lys, he’s coming back from a problem and we have to keep pulling him out of training. That’s why it’s so difficult to get him right back up to speed, particularly because the under-23’s schedule is like it is now and also the fact that we can’t arrange a game for him here at the training ground.”
Mousset has completed just over an hour of football since receiving permission to resume his career before United’s meeting with West Bromwich Albion four weeks ago. He came close to equalising towards the end of that match - firing over the bar from close range with almost the last kick of the contest - and was also inches away from hitting the target when Manchester United travelled to South Yorkshire earlier this month.
“We’ve just got to keep persevering with things, trying to do whatever we can with Lys to get him properly sorted,” Wilder said. “The capabilities and qualities he brings to the table, we believe, means it’s worth doing that. If we want to get out of this, then I think it goes without saying that we need our best players available to us - or as many as possible - at any given moment in time.”