Less than a fortnight after the end of Sheffield United’s season, the transfer window now reopen.
Chris Wilder, who led the club to a 10th placed finish in the Championship less than 12 months after delivering promotion from League One, prefers to complete the majority of his business early.
But, with its two co-owners both pushing for sole control, United’s manager must plot a course through the confusion enveloping Bramall Lane’s boardroom and compile a list of targets which both adhere to his budget and fulfil the squad’s needs. No easy task given that, at the last time of asking, Wilder appeared to have no definitive answer about how much he can spend.
Still, no matter what that figure is, wherever the money comes from, the positions United must strengthen will remain the same. The Star’s James Shield identifies those areas likely to come under the microscope over the next 12 weeks.
Goalkeeper: In Simon Moore and Jamal Blackman, United boasted one of the strongest goalkeeping departments in the division last term. But with the latter returning to Chelsea following a successful loan period, a vacancy has been created which must be filled. The most obvious candidate, and Wilder’s preferred option, is Blackman himself.
Although his contract situation at Stamford Bridge makes a permanent deal unlikely, there is no reason to suggest the 24-year-old could not agree another temporary switch. After all, his Chelsea team mate Tomas Kalas has spent the past two seasons with neighbours Fulham.
Verdict: One new arrival, two if Jake Eastwood is allowed to leave on loan to further his development, is required.
Defence: With George Baldock, Kieron Freeman, Daniel Lafferty and Enda Stevens already on the books, United have no need to recruit a new wing-back. Wilder’s interpretation of the 3-5-2 system, with the emphasis on the ‘3’, places huge mental and physical demands on those tasked with performing the role. But all four, at various points of their respective careers, have shown they can cope and provide the required quality. Although Lafferty and Ryan Leonard can both play the position, a new centre-half is required to provide Jack O’Connell, Chris Basham, Richard Stearman and Jake Wright with specialist competition and cover. With Ben Heneghan being told he can leave South Yorkshire after a finding opportunities hard to come by, Wilder is certain to try and address this matter before the start of next season.
Verdict: United need to boost their numbers at centre-half, especially if they continue to play the same formation.
Midfield: Arguably the department in least need of strengthening or freshening-up. Lee Evans has impressed since arriving from Wolverhampton Wanderers in January while Paul Coutts’ imminent return from injury means the battle for selection in United’s engine room will be particularly fierce this summer. Although United must increase their goal returns from deeper lying positions, this can be achieved either through a tactical tweak, working exhaustively on the finishing skills of Mark Duffy and David Brooks, or deploying Ricky Holmes behind United’s front two instead. More is expected from another new arrival, Leonard, too.
Verdict: Although new additions can not be ruled-out, particularly if Brooks is sold, this is probably the one department Wilder can afford to leave alone.
Attack: Although Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp performed well last season, two new strikers are required. With Clayton Donaldson, Caolan Lavery, James Wilson and James Hanson either leaving or set to leave, Wilder is light on options and pedigree. At least one of his targets must possess genuine pace and the ability to stretch the opposition. Given the fees such players command, the loan market could prove the most viable option to explore.
Verdict: Although Clarke and Sharp both impressed, United need to be more ruthless next season.