Sheffield United: Ravel Morrison's situation at Bramall Lane is addressed
It speaks volumes, about the progress Sheffield United's squad has made both individually and collectively, that a player once dubbed the finest young talent of his generation is still waiting for his first Premier League start of the new campaign.
But that is the situation Ravel Morrison finds himself in, despite seeing his move to Bramall Lane create an avalanche of headlines when it was first announced four months ago. The midfielder, described by Sir Alex Ferguson as the "best" teenager footballer he had ever witnessed after turning professional with Manchester United, has appeared only fleetingly since joining Chris Wilder's squad in July. But the United manager, whose side returns to action at Tottenham Hotspur this weekend, has sought to reassure Morrison he can still become an important figure in the club's top-flight masterplan.
Comparing Morrison to Lys Mousset, who also spent time on the periphery of his starting eleven before forcing himself in, Wilder said: "Ravel is the same, he's no different from one player to the other. Ravel courts a lot of publicity obviously, But then I've got Ben Osborn, who has been oustanding for us and I had to leave out of the 18 the other night. There are no favourites. I see a talent from everybody. They've all got their attributes, that's why we sign them and bring them to the club."
Morrison, now aged 26, made his United debut as a second-half substitute during the 2-1 defeat by Leicester City. After also featuring against Blackburn Rovers and Sunderland in the EFL Cup, he has failed to be selected for any of United's subsequent five outings although, despite not being referenced by coaching staff, a minor injury is thought to have contributed towards that absence.
Although United exit from the knockout tournament has limited Morrison's opportunities, a subtle change to their system has also made it more difficult for him to earn a place in Wilder's team. Despite benefiting John Lundstram, an ever-present since United's promotion from the Championship despite struggling for game-time last term, United's decision to deploy a box-to-box midfielder rather than a creative 'number 10' has left Morrison in direct competition with Oliver Norwood and John Fleck. That means, barring a major drop in form, he could have to wait until one of them suffers and injury or suspension before being handed a chance to establish himself in South Yorkshire.
Morrison's presence, however, does provide United with greater tactical flexibility than they enjoyed during the previous campaign. Together with another new arrival - former Queens Park Rangers player Luke Freeman - he is capable of bringing a different dynamic to a side which travels to London sixth in the table. With Wilder and Chris Basham both recently likening top-flight football to a chess match, that could prove crucial as United attempt to plot a course through a fixture schedule which also sees them face Newcastle, Manchester City, Brighton and their namesakes from Manchester before the end of December.
"You're constantly thinking, trying to take advantage of things and also reacting to what the opposition is doing," Wilder explained.
"You come off the pitch more mentally tired than physically," Basham added. "And physically, it's demanding too."
In an effort to guard against burn-out, particularly in attack, Wilder has admitted he will not shy away from changing a winning team if he feels that is in United's best interests. But with an international break sandwiched in between the trip to Spurs and the visit of Ole Gunnar Solskjær's side, it would be a surprise if the eleven who laid the foundations for the 3-0 win over Burnley were not selected this weekend.
"You have to prove it in the week," Wilder said. "Because there are some very good players pushing to get in and they're pushing hard."