Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder reveals the ferocity of the battle to compete in the Premier League

Chris Wilder admits preserving Sheffield United’s Premier League status is his only objective this season, after laying bare the challenges they face in order to remain at the pinnacle of the English game.

Friday, 18th September 2020, 5:30 pm

Speaking as preparations for Monday’s visit to Aston Villa begin in earnest, and reflecting upon United’s ninth placed finish last term, Wilder painted a stark picture of the issues facing clubs without the luxury of a billionaire owner or sovereign wealth fund at their disposal.

Although Wilder is convinced United can replicate the achievements of Burnley by establishing a foothold at the highest level despite lacking the same resources as many of those around them in the table, he reminded that results over the past 17 months do not mean they will be easier to come by this time around. Indeed, noting the financial effects the Covid-19 pandemic has had on sport, Wilder suggested United can not afford to lose sight of the fact that survival remains their number one target.

“We’ve got to be realistic and talk about another season in the Premier League,” Wilder, whose side were beaten by Burnley in the Carabao Cup on Thursday night, said. “That has got to be our aim, and our main aim. That has got to be our aim this year, next year and year in and year out. We want to continue being where we are and that way, only that way, can we build.”

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Recent events at Villa Park, where Dean Smith’s team only escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth earlier this year, highlight the scale of the task facing United during the 2020/21 campaign. Whereas Wilder is forced to be creative in the transfer market, recruiting the likes of Oliver Burke and Ethan Ampadu earlier this summer, Smith has been granted the funds to embark upon a lavish spending spree despite last season’s performances. One time United targets Ollie Watkins and Matty Cash recently joined Villa for a combined total of £44m while goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez completed a £20m move from Arsenal on Wednesday.

“It’s difficult,” Wilder admitted. “We have to be cute and smart and I think we are.

“If you want to see how difficult it is, look at Ollie Watkins coming out of the Championship for that fee. It’s not just the fees by the way, either. We can’t go out and sign someone on a free and then pay them £70,000 or £80,000 a week. It’s not happening, we’re not in that market.”

“If you look at some of the owners in this division, and that’s not a criticism of mine by the way, we are talking about billionaires or actual states.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder (right) pats Sheffield United's Oliver Burke on the back after he is substituted for teammate Billy Sharp during the Carabao Cup second round match at Turf Moor, Burnley: Jon Super/NMC Pool/PA Wire.

“So we have to work harder than possibly anyone else.”

United opened the new season with a 2-0 defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers before travelling to Turf Moor, where the hosts triumphed on penalties.

“Who knows how things are going to turn out,” Wilder said. “It’s so early and I haven’t got a crystal ball. Nobody has. But what I do know is that our aim is to stay in this division and build on the back of that. That’s how we take this club forward.”

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