Why Sheffield United appear to have taken such a huge gamble during this transfer window

He would have preferred to spend the final few hours of the window reinforcing his own squad rather than tracking West Bromwich Albion’s manoeuvres in the transfer market.

Monday, 1st February 2021, 10:30 pm

But after confirming Sheffield United would not be bolstering the options at his disposal before tonight’s 11pm deadline, a decision which represents a huge gamble in the battle for Premier League survival, Chris Wilder has instead spent the past 24 hours devising a strategy capable of being tweaked to reflect any late arrivals at The Hawthorns ahead of tomorrow evening’s showdown with Sam Allardyce’s side.

“They’ve got an opportunity of changing shape just as much as we have before the game,” Wilder told The Star. “Nothing is ever set in stone and so you’ve always got to be ready to adapt. Players at this level have to be really flexible these days, because the amount of times teams change shape is so high these days, even during games. Tactically, it shifts all the time and we have to be bright to that.

“It’s only when the team sheet comes through that you really know what someone else is going with, then you might have to quickly adjust if there’s something you aren’t expecting.

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Sander Berge limps off earloier this season with a serious hamstring problem: Andrew Yates/Sportimage

“But, overall, I think we’ve got an idea about how they will go about things just as much as they have about we are going to go about things. But you always have to be ready, especially at this time.”

Bottom of the table, 13 points adrift of safety and preparing to face the club directly above them in the rankings, Wilder has left his United squad in no doubt about the importance of their meeting with the visitors from the Midlands. After approaching three players, including Jesse Lingard and Ben Davies, about movies to Bramall Lane, his employers’ failure to progress any of those deals will be a source of disappointment to the 53-year-old and his coaching staff; particularly with those around them in the table all active in the market.

Although he put a brave face on the situation yesterday, Wilder confessed it is important United suffer no more injuries between now and the end of the campaign in order to stand any chance of achieving survival. Oli McBurnie’s return to fitness ahead of Saturday’s trip to Manchester City enabled Wilder to name a full complement of substitutes for the first time in seven games. But, after suffering what he described as an “unprecedented” number of fitness issue this term, it will be a concern that John Fleck, John Lundstram and Oliver Norwood were the only specialist midfielders on duty at the Etihad Stadium.

“We can’t afford any more,” Wilder said. “We’ve lost players in training this season, and I don’t like that even though we work hard to get the balance right. The list of injuries we’ve had this season has been on a par with our points total, in that I really don’t understand it at times. The vast majority of them, we just haven’t been able to do anything about. If anything happens now, we just have to get on with it.”

Enda Stevens is unavailable for selection: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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Oli McBurnie has returned to action for Sheffield United: Laurence Griffiths/PA Wire.