No wholesale changes for Sheffield United this summer - but where do they need to strengthen for next season?
Paul Heckingbottom, the Sheffield United manager, says the Blades will not make wholesale changes to the squad in the transfer market this summer as they face up to life back in the Championship after two very different seasons in the Premier League.
The first saw them challenge for Europe in their first season in the top flight in 12 years. The second could hardly have been more different.
United’s meek relegation has led to calls in some quarters for wholesale changes of a playing staff still made up of a number of players who got United to the Premier League in the first place.
But Heckingbottom says that won’t be the case.
“I think it will be single figures in and out, definitely,” he admitted. “If there was an open budget, you could go and get whoever you want to manage and then buy however many players, but it won’t be that.
“It’s going to be making the most of this group who have been successful before. But going back and highlighting what was successful about this group.
“There will be fresh faces, but they have to get into the side. If you only sign three players but they are getting into the 11 every week, then that’s a new team.
“If not, they would have to be great lads if they are going to shake up the squad enough to get promoted again. It will be minimal numbers but more quality in terms of the signings coming in and affecting the starting 11.”
Sander Berge is expected to head the list of summer departures, while top flight clubs may decide to see how badly United want to hold on to players such as John Egan, George Baldock and Aaron Ramsdale as they look to minimise the drastic drop in revenue that relegation from the Championship brings.
United are continually linked with strikers, despite having six senior forwards under contract on their books and teenage strikers Daniel Jebbison and Antwoine Hackford making senior debuts this season, and will be left light in midfield next season if, as expected, the out-of-contract John Lundstram and Berge move to pastures new.
Assuming United continue with their 3-5-2 formation, an important consideration in the search for the club’s new manager, cover and competition for Jack O’Connell will also be important.
The defender’s absence has been keenly felt by United at both ends of the pitch this season, and the two players who have made the best fist of replacing him – Ethan Ampadu and Kean Bryan – may not be at Bramall Lane next season.
Ampadu is on loan from Chelsea, while Bryan is out of contract in the summer and the return of Rhys Norrington-Davies from his loan spell at Stoke City may prove timely. Wilder and his coaching staff viewed the Wales international as O’Connell’s long-term successor before Wilder’s departure from Bramall Lane earlier this season, and whoever is eventually confirmed as his successor will have a good crop of fellow young players to choose from.
United’s U23s have won their league title this season – they will be presented with the trophy this afternoon – and the likes of Kyron Gordon, Zak Brunt and Iliman Ndiaye have all had a taste of first-team action this season.