Sheffield United: The early evidence suggests The Blades have unearthed another gem in the transfer market
Forty-eight hours after scoring, or according to Premier League officials, forcing the goal which saw Sheffield United claim a point against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Lys Mousset found himself leading the line during an under-23's fixture inside a near deserted stadium.
The opposition, atmosphere and edge could not have been more different. From west London, where over 40,000 people had watched the two clubs scrap it out for Premier League points. To a Monday afternoon at Bramall Lane, in front of a few hundred or so die-hard fans. It was a sign, despite Mousset's contribution to arguably the most impressive result of United's season so far, that Chris Wilder is prepared to make good on his promise about using the international break to help the Frenchman achieve peak fitness.
"We thought it was the right game to get him involved in," the United manager said, after summoning Mousset from the bench during the closing stages of last weekend's visit to SW6. "He'd been at it all week, really pushing hard. So as far as we were concerned, that was the right moment."
Wilder has been extremely protective of Mousset since his arrival earlier this summer, attributing his conditioning to the protracted nature of United's negotiations with AFC Bournemouth. It was only after the 23-year-old made his debut during their recent Carabao Cup victory over Blackburn Rovers that he acknowledged the player himself must also take some responsibility. Even then, when journalists attempted to explore the issue further, Wilder simply spoke about something else.
But before United departed for the capital, he did appear to confirm that Mousset is still a little way short of achieving his ideal fighting shape. If so, then given the impact he made three days ago, Wilder has unearthed another real gem in the transfer market.
"I don't know who it was but, the first thing Mouss did after coming on was just breeze right past somebody," he said. "Like I say, I'm not sure who it was. What I do know is it was like they just weren't there.
"He was a big plus for us. He gave us pace, power and drive."
Demanding Mousset started and completed United's Professional Development League meeting with Charlton Athletic was an admission on Wilder's part that Mousset is still short of his best. If not in terms of physical fitness, then certainly his psychological sharpness. But the idea is, by the time Southampton make journey north on September 14, Mousset should be firing on all cylinders. He appeared close during an eye-catching cameo in the capital, turning on the after-burners to leave Emerson trailing following his introduction before getting the final touch when Kurt Zouma tried to clear Robinson's pass.
"We'll work him hard," Wilder said, before the second round tie with Rovers. "Obviously, we've got a little bit of time off, as it were, coming up with regards to the fixture list. But there's no time off in terms of what we're doing behind the scenes."
Despite playing less than 40 minutes of senior football in United colours, Mousset has already shown why United spent around £10m acquiring his services. Standing a shade over six feet tall, the former Le Havre striker provides a fresh dynamic to an attack boasting the graft of Oli McBurnie and Callum Robinson and the guile of Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick. Perhaps more importantly, however, Mousset has a chip on his shoulder too. Despite thanking Bournemouth for their help during a round of pre-season interviews, he also made little attempt to disguise his frustration at only being used sparingly by Eddie Howe on the south coast. Given Mousset's qualities, United will be looking to harness that sense of injustice over the coming nine months.
"Mouss is working hard," Wilder said. "There's a reason why we brought him here and that's because, not only do we know what he can produce, we knew he was going to fit in."