What Sheffield United's team could look like against Hull City with players returning

Sheffield United boss Slavisa Jokanovic was forced into fielding a side against Preston North End that he ideally wouldn’t have chosen off the back of Saturday’s emphatic win over Peterbrough United.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 12:48 pm

Certainly, the majority of the team would have remained the same but there were a couple personnel matters that could have made a difference and helped to build momentum after that 6-2 win at the weekend.

United were a little flatter in the 2-2 draw with Preston, part of the reason for that may have been the absence of Ben Osborn.

The midfielder, often moved from pillar to post such is his versatility, looked to have found a perfect position – by measure of Saturday’s performance at least – situated on the left of an attacking midfield three, in a match where he scored twice on top of his impressive all-round showing.

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Sheffield United's Sander Berge celebrates after scoring to make it 2-1 against Preston during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane. Simon Bellis / Sportimage

However, unfortunately for Jokanovic, Osborn picked up a bug over the weekend and was unable to train.

In his place went Luke Freeman and it didn’t quite click down the left the way it had against Posh. There could be a number of factors behind that. Freeman was energetic and tried to make things happen particularly in the early stages but seemed to run out of steam. Rhys Norrington-Davies, too, started well but appeared to then play within himself after a period where some passes weren’t coming off.

The link-up play with Norrington-Davies didn’t come to fruition as it had between the young Wales international and Osborn. Whether it was one or the other who didn’t offer what was needed down the left or a combination of both, is up for debate but if fit enough, you would expect Osborn to come back into the side.

"Ben isn’t injured, he is just ill,” Jokanovic said after Tuesday’s match. “The situation is simple and he hasn’t worked with us for the last two days but we hope he will be working with us in our next training session.”

Jokanovic may then have to decide whether Osborn goes into that same position, or drops into left full-back in place of Norrington-Davies.

The waters were muddied further by the introduction of goalscorer Sander Berge from the bench with Jokanovic admitting that while the Norwegian is seen as a central midfielder, he has spoken to the player about potentially taking up a role in a wider area.

It was coming in from the right that he scored his goal and perhaps Berge could start there and have Morgan Gibbs-White or Iliman Ndiaye shift across.

Jokanovic said: “Simple, I am talking with him and asking him where he can play in these positions, I wanted more passing to make them more tired and running around us.

“His contribution was good and he scored, his position is in the middle but with his quality he can attack and I feel he made a good job.”

In the centre of defence, a change is almost certainly necessary. Jack Robinson gave away a goal against Peterborough having got himself in a muddle from a long pass forward. On Tuesday when he needed to be dominant in the air, a misplaced header following a free-kick from around the halfway line, allowed Preston the opportunity to score an injury time equaliser.

Head that away and the attack is finished – it’s what central defenders are paid for.

Is it absolutely necessary that the player in that position is left-footed? Surely Chris Basham is more than capable of playing in there.

Regardless of that, Jokanovic had been hopeful of bringing Ben Davies back into the fray for Tuesday, so it would be fair to assume that a couple more days recovery should see the on-loan Liverpool player available for selection for the trip to Hull City.

All in all, while there were still positives to take from the draw – despite it feeling somewhat like a defeat given the timing of the equaliser – Jokanovic has plenty to ponder over the coming days.

Possible starting XI to face Hull? Olsen, Baldock, Egan, Davies, Osborn, Norwood, Fleck, Berge, Gibbs-White, Indiaye, Sharp.