Familiarity doesn't breed contempt at Sheffield United - Alan Biggs

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Two Premier League openers four years apart – seven of the same players!

It’s not just that Sheffield United kick off at Bramall Lane against Crystal Palace, as they did in 2019, that is uncanny.

In an era when football clubs are turned upside down in the space of a week or a month, let alone a season, the landscape of S2 is quite remarkable.

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Whether that is a strength or a weakness will have a big bearing on the outcome of the new campaign.

Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom will have many of the same players available to him on the opening day that began the Premier League season four years agoSheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom will have many of the same players available to him on the opening day that began the Premier League season four years ago
Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom will have many of the same players available to him on the opening day that began the Premier League season four years ago

I looked back at the events of August 18 four summers ago when, after a first day draw at Bournemouth, Chris Wilder’s team beat Palace 1-0.

Of course, the goal scorer, John Lundstram is no longer present – but seven members of United’s matchday squad that day still are. And all seven have a high chance of figuring on August 12 this time as the Blades launch their return to the top flight on home soil.

John Egan, Chris Basham, George Baldock, Ollie Norwood and John Fleck all started four years ago. Oli McBurnie and Ben Osborn were on the bench.

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That number could easily have risen to ten. The departed Billy Sharp and Enda Stevens were still wanted by manager Paul Heckingbottom, who was “disappointed” to lose that battle with the board, while Jack O’Connell would have been a fixture but for the injury tragedy that ended his Lane career.

We’re told that if you stand still in football you get overtaken. There is certainly truth in that and the Blades’ inability to kick on in financial terms has necessitated another relatively low budget promotion.

But there is an element of this that is a refreshing throwback to the days when you could name entire line-ups that, if successful, would change little from season to season.

And it’s also a welcome reversal of the current trend for throwing pieces into the air to see where they land.

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Signings are needed and necessary if United are to be fresh enough to compete. But if they are to stay up as a minimum the main strength will have to be the same as in 2019-20 when they confounded all expectations by finishing ninth.

It’s all about that self-policing, driving quality at the heart of the dressing room.

Which is why Heckingbottom wanted to keep as many of the old guard as possible.

And let’s not forget that all the players mentioned above have won their spurs in the Premier League and know not to fear it.

Sometimes circumstances leave little choice but to keep faith when all too often familiarity breeds contempt.