Panos Retsos and Richairo Zivkovic receive important guidance
Sheffield United have devised a special list of criteria Panos Retsos and Richairo Zivkovic must meet in order to win permanent transfers to Bramall Lane after Chris Wilder recognised the challenges they face breaking into his starting eleven.
Seventh in the Premier League table with 10 matches of their season remaining, only injuries or suspensions are likely to force the break-up of a team which enters this weekend’s match at Newcastle unbeaten in its last six outings.
On loan from Bayer Leverkusen and Changchun Yatai respectively, Retsos and Zivkovic have yet to make their full debuts for United since arriving at the club in January.
Combined with recent results, the unusual tactics Wilder employs have made it doubly difficult for the duo to force their way past the likes of Chris Basham and Billy Sharp, who scored his fourth goal of the season against Norwich City three days ago.
“We’re doing all the video analysis stuff with Panos and Richairo,” Wilder said. “They won’t be judged by playing in the first team.
“They’re desperate to get in but I’d be disappointed if I was Bash or Billy and I was left out just so we could have a look at Panos or Richairo.
“Their job is to get into the team. I don’t pick a team and leave the best players out for a reason. They have to get in.”
Wilder’s room for experimentation has also been limited by the progress his side has made since being promoted from the Championship last term. With only five points separating them from fourth-placed Chelsea, who visit South Yorkshire next month, United’s sights are now fixed on qualifying for Europe next term. Only enforced changes are expected to be made between now and the end of the campaign, with one being considered ahead of the trip to St James’ Park as Enda Stevens struggles to shake-off the effects of a recent calf complaint. Ben Osborne will step-in at wing-back if the Republic of Ireland international fails a series of fitness tests.
Wilder could involve Retsos and Zivkovic, previously of Ajax, when United host Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter-finals later this month. Both were named in his matchday 18 for the fifth round victory over Reading, which saw Jack Robinson, another new arrival, play a part in Sharp’s winning strike.
“They’re all intelligent boys,” Wilder, whose benchmarks for Retsos and Zivkovic include impressing in training and integrating behind the scenes, said. “Panos is a Greek international, Jags (Phil Jagielka) can play there too and not so long ago, Jack was involved in one of our goals.
“We’ve got good options and everyone is healthy and trying to drive it forward.”
Wilder is also monitoring how Retsos and Zivkovic help their colleagues prepare for games, citing the influence former players such as Gary Madine, Scott Hogan and Martin Cranie exerted during last season’s climb out of the Championship.
“Everyone understands the importance of being together,” Wilder said. “We achieve together."