Sheffield United left in the dark about key players ahead of clash with Liverpool
Sander Berge and Jack O’Connell are yet to be handed dates for their potential returns to action, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has admitted, as the club’s injury crisis shows no sign of abating ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Liverpool.
United are set to enter their game against the reigning Premier League champions without their three first choice centre-halves, after Chris Basham joined O’Connell on the treatment table following last weekend’s defeat by Fulham.
With John Egan and Berge also ruled out of action for the foreseeable future, Wilder faces the unpalatable prospect of being forced to name an untried and inexperienced starting eleven when Jurgen Klopp’s side visit South Yorkshire.
United had hoped Berge, who recently underwent surgery to repair a severed hamstring, and O’Connell, absent since September due to a persistent knee complaint, would shortly be declared available for selection. Although O’Connell recently resumed light non contact training at the Steelphalt Academy, Wilder acknowledged the nature of their conditions means medical staff are reluctant to predict when they will be declared fit.
“It’s difficult to say because of what they’re coming back from,” he told The Star. “They’re working hard and they’re desperate to get back out there, so they’re doing everything they can as you would expect of those two. Obviously we hope it’s not going to be too long but the only thing we’re really looking at, rather than an exact time period, is trying to make sure that happens as soon as possible.”
With O’Connell experiencing a set-back in his rehabilitation earlier this month, Wilder is acutely aware that Berge could easily suffer a similar blow because of the complex nature of his problem.
Although Basham’s situation is not thought to be as serious - he limped-out of the 1-0 defeat at Craven Cottage before returning to Bramall Lane with the rest of the squad - hamstring issues are notoriously difficult to treat, with many of those recovering from them suffering further strains or tears when they intensify their schedules.
Egan sat out the trip to west London after leaving the pitch on a stretcher, when United travelled to West Ham five days earlier. Those losses in the capital - Wilder’s men were beaten 3-0 by David Moyes’ men - have effectively condemned them to relegation with 13 matches still left to play.
United began preparing for the contest with Liverpool at the bottom of the table, 14 point adrift of 17th placed Newcastle.
Despite seemingly reducing the pressure on O’Connell, Egan, Basham and Berge to make speedy recoveries, Wilder is keen for the quartet to all feature before the end of the campaign as United look to restore some pride by at least climbing off the foot of the rankings.
“We want to be as strong as we possibly can,” he said, after being refused permission to bolster the options at his disposal during the mid-season transfer window. “It’s important that we keep on going, no matter what, because that’s the character and identity of this group.”