Sheffield United: Slavisa Jokanovic is ready to play mind-games with Derby County over Sander Berge

Slavisa Jokanovic, the Sheffield United manager, has attempted to keep Wayne Rooney guessing about his team selections for Derby County’s visit to Bramall Lane by refusing to provide a detailed update on Sander Berge’s fitness.

Friday, 24th September 2021, 11:30 am

The Norway international, whose availability could dictate not only the formation United employ during tomorrow’s match but also the way they implement it, is thought to be making progress in his battle to recover from the injury he sustained before last weekend’s visit to Hull City.

After being withdrawn from the starting eleven only minutes before kick-off, Berge also sat-out Tuesday’s Carabao Cup tie against Southampton. Although Jokanovic suggested the midfielder is close to being declared fit, he declined repeated invitations to confirm exactly when coaching staff expect him to return to action.

“We are monitoring Sander and we are not sure if he will be available or not for the next game,” Jokanovic said last night. “We are working with him tomorrow and we will see.”

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Discovering if Berge is likely to take part in the contest will be a key part of the information gathering exercise Wayne Rooney, Jokanovic’s embattled counterpart, hopes to complete before finalising his own plans. If Berge does receive permission to take part, he could be deployed just behind Billy Sharp in attack as United’s coaching staff attempt to accentuate the strengths and mask the weaknesses in the 23-year-old’s game. If not, Conor Hourihane is expected to remain in the starting eleven after impressing during the 3-1 win at the MKM Stadium. However, his greater mobility and athleticism means Hourihane is better suited to a deeper lying role. Adlene Guedioura, recently signed on a free transfer after leaving Al-Gharafa, is another option for Jokanovic to consider.

As The Star reported following United’s return from East Yorkshire, defender Ben Davies did not suffer a recurrence of the foot problem which troubled him earlier this month against Grant McCann’s side. Confirming the centre-half should feature against opponents who were recently docked points after being placed into administration, Jokanovic said: “Ben is okay. After every game at the moment he is in a complex situation because he has not been active (at Liverpool) for a few months before coming to us (on loan). We expect him to be ready for the game.”

Strikers David McGoldrick and Lys Mousset both returned to training on Thursday as they close in on their respective returns to action. Mousset, whose career in South Yorkshire has been overshadowed by fitness and personal issues, was in superb form during United’s preparations for the new season but limped-out of their meeting with Birmingham City on the opening weekend after being given an opportunity to prove his worth.

Jokanovic has also commissioned reports on Luke Freeman and Oliver Burke after they were substituted during the interval of United’s third round tie with Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.

Slavisa Jokanovic and Sander Berge: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“Freezy, he got a kick and felt a hamstring problem,” Jokanovic explained. “Burkey, he feels like he had a bruise on his heel. Both players, they are still being assessed and we will see.”

Sander Berge warms up before the Sky Bet Championship match at the MKM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull. Picture credit should read: Simon Bellis / Sportimage