Sander Berge's impressive Sheffield United debut and a special mention for John Lundstram
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Eleven years after it was taken, Sheffield United’s latest trip to Crystal Palace spawned another iconic image; Sander Berge, beaded in sweat and arms outstretched, paying homage to his new club’s supporters following a hugely significant win in the capital.
The most expensive player in United’s history, Wilder later joked he owed his starting role to the size of his price tag before explaining, with an icy stare to hammer home the point, that actually it was because of the youngster’s tactical acumen.
“The owner told me I had to play him” Wilder replied when asked why, despite only being unveiled on Thursday, Berge had been parachuted straight into the the starting eleven. “He was adamant that we weren’t paying that kind of money just to put someone on the bench.
“No, seriously, we’d tracked him for a while, he’d trained with us we thought it would give us a boost.”
Predictably, despite being regarded as one of the most promising midfielders in Europe, Berge suffered a couple of early missteps before beginning to find his feet. A run into the penalty area, during the opening skirmishes of a contest settled by Vicente Guaita’s goalkeeping howler, was timed a little too late to connect with John Fleck’s centre. It was quickly followed, as they fathomed each other’s positional preferences, by a clunky exchange of passes with Oliver Norwood.
But it was after that mistake, which threatened to send Palace’s Patrick van Aanholt surging into United’s half, when Berge began to demonstrate why he should prove such an invaluable addition to Wilder’s squad. Already known as an accomplished technician, he darted back and regained possession rather than expecting someone else to clear up the mess. Tellingly, it was also the last obvious error that Berge made.
“That’s the reason we chucked him in,” Wilder continued. “Because we know he’s an intelligent player. We took him on board for 48 hours, talked to him and set up some fundamental aspects that he needed to know about how we go about things. But I thought Palace did as good a job as anyone on us in the first-half. They really jumped on us.”
As Wilder acknowledged, Roy Hodgson’s side caused United plenty of problems before Guaita’s own goal - he spilled Norwood’s second-half corner across the line - decided the outcome of the game. Wilder’s pioneering system, which revolves around attacking centre-halves and marauding wing-backs, can be difficult for opponents to make sense of. But Hodgson, one of England’s most experienced coaches, had clearly done his homework.
The same can also be said of Berge who, after being thrown in at the deep end, quickly adapted to its demands and challenges. A towering presence, his poise and touch also made a positive impression.
John Lundstram, who began the afternoon on the bench before replacing Berge during the closing stages, also impressed after being introduced. His performance, coupled with the one produced by fellow substitute Lys Mousset, provided Wilder with exactly the type of headache he wants as United, who finished the afternoon ranked fifth in the Premier League, wants ahead of Sunday’s game against AFC Bournemouth.
“I thought the performance of John and Mousset when they came on was just typical of their attitudes,” Wilder said. “Lunny has been out for a couple of games but he came roaring back and the togetherness of the group was first class,
“We had to stick our bodies on the line at times. Bash (Chris Basham) got beaten up, he’s got a massive cut on his knee and a knock to his head which will possibly need a couple of stitches.
“But the boys, every single one of them, really dug in.”
Crystal Palace: Guaita, Ward, van Aanholt, Milivojevic, Tomkins, Ayew, Zaha, Benteke (Townsend 74), McArthur (Kouyate 85), McCarthy (Meyer 79), Cahill. Not used: Hennessey, Dann, Kouyate, Kelly, Riedewald.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Baldock. Stevens, O’Connell, Egan, Basham, Norwood, Fleck, Berge (Lundstram 67), Sharp (Mousset 62), McBurnie (Osborn 90). Not used: Verrips, L Freeman, Jagielka, Robinson.
Referee: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire).