What Sheffield United can learn from Crystal Palace as they look to bounce back to Premier League - and stay there
Pace. Power. Speed, of body and thought. Skill. Confidence. And, above all, Premier League status.
It became glaringly apparent on Saturday that Crystal Palace are everything that Sheffield United at this moment in time, are not. The margin of victory for the Eagles could and should have been far greater than 2-0 and if there is the smallest crumb of comfort for the Blades, it’s that they won’t have to face Ebere Eze for at least a season.
He has been far and away the most dangerous opponent United have faced this season over two games. His mazy run at Selhurst Park earlier in the season, albeit past some pretty average defending at best, capped a miserable afternoon in the capital and barely a minute had passed on the clock at Bramall Lane when he ghosted past the Blades back line and fed Christian Benteke to open the scoring and, in boss Paul Heckingbottom’s view, set up the game.
It was Eze who put the gloss on the game with a brilliant run from past the halfway line, even if the finish did have a touch of fortune when it deflected off John Fleck past Aaron Ramsdale.
The Bramall Lane win was enough to secure another season of Premier League football for Palace, and next season will be their eighth in a row since winning promotion from the Championship in 2013.
That is almost twice as long as the Blades have spent in the Premier League since its inception in early 1992 and has put them in a position to pay salaries in excess of six figures a week to the likes of Benteke, Wilf Zaha and Mamadou Sakho – well over double the highest earners on United’s roster at present.
That is the trouble United have when they enter the market for players like Eze, who commanded a modest-looking £15m initial fee when he moved from QPR to Palace. The Blades have also been unable to compete for players such as Ollie Watkins, Neal Maupay and even Matty Cash before they moved elsewhere to fellow Premier League clubs and United were forced to examine other, cheaper options.
“They’re someone we can look at but you have to build that way,” said Heckingbottom, when asked if clubs like Palace are a model that United can look to emulate.
“You could name a lot of teams that have done that but it’s baby steps, building blocks. You then have to look at the wages they pay to attract the players and then keep them and maintain in the Premier League. While you’re gradually building on the pitch, you’ve got to build off it to be able to maintain.
“With two seasons in the Premier League and the payments that go with it, and then the parachute payments, we should be financially in a better place. And then, for example, if you go up again next season, we’ll certainly be in a better position than the first time we went up.
“There’s building blocks on the pitch and off it, before you can assemble a squad if you like and pay the same amount as other clubs.”