Sheffield United 1-0 Crystal Palace: Five things to takeaway from today's match at Bramall Lane
The Star’s Sheffield United writer James Shield analyses some of the key talking points to emerge from today’s victory over the visitors from London.
John Lundstram's strike, at the beginning of the second period, ensured the first Premier League game to be staged at Bramall Lane for 12 years ended in a win for Chris Wilder's side. The three points were certainly warranted, with United creating the better opportunities and enjoying longer period of possession throughout, although Palace did look threatening during the early exchanges. After opening the new season with a draw at AFC Bournemouth, United have taken four points out of a possible six following last term's promotion from the Championship. That is a damn good return. But the fact United have not looked out of place in open play is possibly the most encouraging aspect of their return to the top-flight.
A Goal from Lundstram
At the end of last season, most Sheffield United supporters probably suspected Lundstram would be destined for the exit door as Wilder prepared sculpting a squad fit for the Premier League. But when the club's summer warm-up programme got underway, it became clear United's coaching staff had an important role in mind for the midfielder. Although there are still plenty of areas where his game can improve - sometimes, his first inclination is to pass safe rather than forward - Lundstram more thann justified his selection on the opening weekend of the campaign at AFC Bournemouth. He did the same again here, scoring the goal which delivered a deserved victory.
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, watched this fixture from the directors' box. Sitting next to United co- owner Kevin McCabe, who six years earlier had held discussions with the former Crystal Palace defender about taking charge at Bramall Lane, Southgate watched the likes of Dean Henderson, George Baldock and Jack O'Connell all produce solid displays against his predecessor Roy Hodgson's team. Baldock in particular caught the eye, causing the visitors all manner of problems down United's right flank. Earlier this year the wing-back revealed he is also eligible to represent Greece at international level. A call-up remains a long shot. But this is football and stranger things have happened. After all, three years ago, United had just been beaten 3-0 at home by Southend in League One.
Despite being delighted by the performance his team produced, the sight of John Fleck and Callum Robinson both trudging off with injuries will have concerned Wilder ahead of Saturday's game against Leicester City. In a sense, with his replacement Luke Freeman effectively creating Lundstram's goal, Fleck's departure worked for United here. The former Queens Park Rangers midfielder injected greater impetus into the hosts' attacking play, with Palace's defence eventually crumbling under the pressure soon after the re-start. But, given the importance of his partnership with Oliver Norwood to the way United play, Wilder will not want to lose the Scot for any period of time. Robinson joined Fleck on the sidelines just before the hour. It was not his best display since swapping Preston North End for South Yorkshire, but his energy did harass Palace into making a couple of mistakes at the back.
As expected, Palace named Wilfried Zaha in their starting eleven after fending off interest from Arsenal and Everton before the transfer deadline earlier this month. With the visitors thought to value to Ivory Coast international at around £80m, Zaha is could soon become one of the most expensive players in the game. But it quickly became apparent that United's coaching staff had devised a plan to combat the threat he posed. It involved Baldock and Chris Basham working in tandem to deny Zaha time and space whenever he received the ball. It worked in terms of shape and had the desired psychological effect upon Zaha too, who became an increasingly frustrated figure as the afternoon wore on.