Sheffield United: The moment Chris Wilder knew this squad has got what it takes
The highlight of Chris Wilder's international break came, not when David McGoldrick scored for the Republic of Ireland or John Egan captained them against Bulgaria, but during a visit to West Yorkshire on a storm-lashed training pitch.
With six members of his squad called-up by their respective countries, the Sheffield United manager decided a behind-closed-doors friendly was the best way to keep the remainder ticking over ahead of tomorrow's game against Southampton.
What he witnessed, as United were put through their paces by Huddersfield Town, convinced him that complacency has not crept into the Bramall Lane ranks following an encouraging start to the Premier League season.
"We had a behind closed doors game last week, against Huddersfield, and I was delighted with the attitude of all the pro's," Wilder said. "It was windy and rainy at Huddersfield Town, on a Friday morning, and you look at how they came through it. I've got to say, I was delighted with the attitude. But not surprised. That didn't come as a shock at all."
It speaks volumes, about both the results United have recorded and the manner in which they have been achieved, that refusing to feel comfortable at the highest level has been cited as one of the biggest challenges facing Wilder's team. After holding AFC Bournemouth to a draw on the opening weekend of the campaign, United have beaten Crystal Palace and snatched a share of the spoils at Chelsea. A home defeat by Leicester City is the only blemish on their report card so far.
With Enda Stevens, Callum Robinson, Oli McBurnie and Mo Besic all expected to be available for selection after being selected for the latest round of Euro 2020 qualifiers, Wilder expects to have a near full compliment of players at his disposal for the meeting with Ralph Hasenhüttl's side. Unlike Stevens and Egan, Robinson and McGoldrick flew back home from Dublin following Ireland's Group D tie clash with Switzerland to receive treatment for minor injuries. But United's coaching staff are confident both will recover in time to face the club where Wilder turned professional.
"Individually, they've adapted to the Premier League," Wilder said, reflecting upon United's progress since being promoted from the Championship last term. "Collectively, there's a few things we need to nail down. I believe we'll grow into the division and get better and better. I believe the points we've got, we've deserved.
"We've not nicked anything. But we're not a group that's looking back. We're looking to the next game."
McGoldrick also effectively launched his career with Southampton after leaving Notts County as a youngster. Billy Sharp, the United captain, is another former Saint having spent two years there before joining Leeds in 2014.
"Billy's time there wasn't a real long time," Wilder said. "It's not like he's coming back to Sheffield United, after playing 400 or so games. Didzy was there too. Obviously there's an attachment. But I don't think you'll see a great change because they're consistent performers."
Speaking after goals from Robinson and substitute Lys Mousset saw United come from 2-0 down at Stamford Bridge, Wilder suggested he believes in his players "more than they believe in themselves" following a strong second-half display. But as United applied the finishing touches to their preparations for the Southampton clash, he rejected suggestions that represented an overly critical analysis of last month's display in the capital.
"There's been plenty of belief," Wilder said. "No disrespect, a lot of it is the quality of the opposition. This isn't the Championship, where people are expecting us to burst out of the traps. Chelsea have taken everyone to the cleaners, first 20 or 25 minutes or so, since coming back. But the shape of the team has been good."