Sheffield United: How Chris Wilder has upped the pre-season ante

By admitting he must soon begin the process of trimming Sheffield United's squad, Chris Wilder has ensured its forthcoming friendlies against Northampton Town, Chesterfield and Barnsley have suddenly assumed an air of even greater importance.

Friday, 19th July 2019, 1:26 pm
Updated Friday, 19th July 2019, 9:50 pm
Former Sheffield United midfielder Paul Coutts (left) with Chris Wilder: Dave Howarth/PA Wire.

Rather than simply being an exercise in fitness and fine-tuning strategy, tomorrow's visit to Sixfields, which will be closely followed by trips to Derbyshire and Oakwell, suddenly represents an opportunity for those on the periphery of Wilder's plans to earn themselves a chance at Premier League level next term.

After all, despite already making some of those at his disposal available for transfer, Wilder has previous when it comes to re-assessing a player's importance. Paul Coutts and Kieron Freeman were both deemed surplus to requirements when he first took charge three years ago before, after impressing in pre-season, going on to become mainstays of the team which lifted the League One title a year later.

Midfielder John Lundstram, who many folk suspected would be heading for the exit door following United's promotion from the Championship last season, is the latest example of a footballer who has changed Wilder's perception over the past few months.

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Despite making only 12 appearances as United blazed a trail out of the Championship - two of those coming in cup competitions - the Liverpudlian has featured in both of their outings so far this summer and, following Tuesday's meeting with Burton Albion, was praised by Wilder for his performances.

"John was someone who a lot of people thought might have been heading out of here," the United manager admitted. "But he's been brilliant and we think he can play a big role here for us."

The same can not be said for all of those who will make the journey to Northamptonshire where, only a matter of weeks before his appointment, Wilder had delivered the League Two title. It was a remarkable achievement, given the financial issues facing Town at the time, and will guarantee he receives an excellent reception from supporters who did not begrudge him the chance of working for his boyhood club.

Despite Wilder's emotional ties to Bramall Lane, he has proven himself to be ruthless too. Although much of the commentary surrounding his time at United has focused on some excellent pieces of recruitment, Wilder's willingness to off-load people who fail to cut the mustard has been equally impressive. By keeping numbers tight, the 51- year-old has been able to maintain both optimism and discipline in the dressing room.

John Lundstram has impressed Sheffield United's coaching staff this summer: James Wilson/Sportimage

"We like to work with a certain number," he said. "There's thinking behind that because everyone has got to feel as if they can play a part. You don't want players who feel, no matter what they do, that they're not going to get an opportunity because there are just too many others in front of them."

"We've brought a few in," Wilder said. "So that is something we'll have to take a look at as well."

With Phil Jagielka, Luke Freeman and Callum Robinson already enjoying outings in a United jersey, their fellow new signing Ravel Morrison could be handed his debut of sorts against Keith Curle's side. Previously of Manchester United and Lazio, Morrison missed last week's win over Real Betis in Portugal with a heel problem, also sitting out the defeat at the Pirelli Stadium.

Curle, the former United defender, has begun the process of re-shaping Town's squad by capturing Charlie Goode and Vadane Oliver from Scunthorpe and Morecambe respectively.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder (right) and Burton Albion manager Nigel Clough ahead of Tuesday's friendly between their two clubs: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Kieron Freeman (right) during training with Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage