Sheffield United: Eight on international duty...could it soon be more?

Ordinarily, Sheffield United would spend the next few days resting relaxing and recuperating before embarking upon a gruelling schedule of training sessions designed to prepare them for this month's game against their namesakes from Manchester.

Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 2:48 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 3:20 pm
John Egan is proud to play for the Republic of Ireland: James Wilson/Sportimage

But there is nothing routine or ordinary about Chris Wilder's side right now. Fifth in the Premier League following a draw with Tottenham Hotspur and with a defensive record only matched by second-placed Leicester City, little wonder eight members of the squad expected to face one of the most decorated clubs in Europe are away on international duty.

With Dean Henderson becoming the latest call-up when England summoned him to St George's Park earlier this week, Wilder's ability to fine-tune tactics and team shape is limited. John Egan, David McGoldrick and Oli McBurnie are also among those scheduled to spend nearly a fortnight on duty with their respective countries. Which despite making him proud, United's manager admits, leaves him in a difficult predicament.

"Us as a Premier League club and a Championship club, international breaks haven't really changed," Wilder said, outlining one of the difficulties he has faced during their climb through the divisions. "Just the numbers.

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"It's pretty difficult to do anything when they're away, because most who go are starters. So shape is a difficult thing to work on. But I'm delighted to see them go. I would be a brave man to try and stop John Egan getting on a plane to represent his country."

If United continue to progress at the same rapid pace, one suspects Wilder will have even less players at his disposal when the PL goes into hibernation again next year. Callum Robinson, John Fleck, Mo Besic and Enda Stevens complete United's international contingent at present. But former England youth defender Jack O'Connell and George Baldock, who scored his first top-flight goal at Spurs, are both attracting plaudits for their performances this term. The latter, despite being born in Buckingham, also qualifies for Greece and, given their indifferent results of late, John van 't Schip's coaching staff are expected to implement a series of sweeping changes following their meeting with Armenia and Finland.

It will also be fascinating to see if Michael O'Neill's successor - he is set to join Stoke City later this month - attempts to persuade Oliver Norwood to reconsider his decision to retire from Northern Ireland action. Like Baldock and O'Connell, the United midfielder has also been in excellent form of late. Indeed, his partnership with Fleck provides John Lundstram, arguably the story of the season at Bramall Lane so far, to press forward and cause problems around the opposition box.

Although Ole Gunnar Solskjær has also been hampered by international selections, the inconvenience caused to Wilder is arguably even greater. United, unlike the visitors from Old Trafford, are attempting to establish themselves at the highest level following a 12 year absence and, despite boasting plenty of talented professionals, are undoubtedly a team greater than the sum of its parts. Manchester United's squad is also deeper and more experienced than the one Wilder has been able to construct, despite a busy summer in the transfer market.

"We work hard together, as a group," Wilder said. "And we're not ashamed of that fact."