Sheffield United: How and where The Blades devised the strategy they believe can stun Liverpool

Earlier this week, visitors to a well-known coffee shop located just off Ecclesall Road will have spotted three young men locked deep in conversation sipping flat whites and cappuccinos.

Saturday, 28th September 2019, 8:57 pm
Chris Basham (right) celebrates Sheffield United's promotion with John Egan: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

It was the meeting where Sheffield United's defenders began drafting their strategy for Liverpool; an action plan designed to nullify the threat posed by Jurgen Klopp's formidable strike-force and give Chris Wilder's side the best chance of success.

"We went to Costa and had a chilled one," Chris Basham said, revealing details of Wednesday's get-together. "We are quite connected as a team. If someone texts in the group and says we are going for a coffee, one of the boys will always turn up. And I was around the area, so I went as well. I like to turn up, otherwise I get told I'm not a team player."

Basham, together with fellow centre-halves Jack O'Connell and John Egan, holds the key to United's prospects against the reigning champions of Europe and Premier League leaders. With Klopp confirming Sadio Mané is available for selection, they could find themselves facing arguably the competition's deadliest attacking trio tomorrow afternoon. The Senegalese, alongside Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, has helped the visitors win all six of their outings since August, scoring 17 goals in the process.

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Although the odds, both in terms of finance and experience, are stacked heavily in Liverpool's favour, United remain confident they can cause an upset. One reason for that belief, Basham explained, is the number of Scousers within their squad. Both O'Connell and midfielder John Lundstram, who started his career at Everton, are lifelong Reds fans and have made no secret of the fact the match is personally significant.

Basham, a boyhood Sunderland supporter, used this week's Carabao Cup defeat by Jack Ross' side and United's recent win at Goodison Park to describe how professional footballers approach facing either the team they grew-up following or former clubs.

"You want to prove to fans that this is what you missed," he said. "The lads have been around the block but when you are a Liverpool fan, like Lundstram going back to Everton, he wanted to prove a point to say why did you release me? That is the kind of feeling you have growing up and you want to prove to your fans and family that this what you have missed. It is kind of a feeling inside."

"It wasn't a nice thing for me to get beat by Sunderland," Basham continued. "I wanted to get on pitch and change it."

The importance of harnessing those feelings whilst remaining focused featured prominently on the list of instructions United were issued with last night, as Wilder finalised their preparations for a fixture he acknowledges is their biggest test since being promoted in April. Any slip or individual error is likely to be punished by opponents who appear Manchester City's only serious challengers in the race for the title.

"When the manager came in, he wanted lads who wanted to buy into this club, get fans on your side and play exciting football," Basham said. "You can only do that by winning games. We are all in it together and want to perform at the highest level. We are winning and drawing games."

United finished the weekend ranked 10th after their 2-0 win on Merseyside; a result which means they remain ahead of the one point per game average many commentators believe delivers survival. Centre-forward David McGoldrick is again a doubt after missing the meetings with Everton and Sunderland through injury. But Oliver Norwood, George Baldock and Enda Stevens are among those set to return having been rested in midweek.

"Togetherness helps," Basham said. "If you not together in a team, it's tough and if you are not in squad, those boys need to be together. No-one sulks because it becomes a toxic environment, which you don't want."