The biggest problem that faces most promoted sides in the Premier League is a lack of depth.
Making the jump up to the first division is always tough, with teams having to make sure they bring in the right players in their fight to stay up the following year. That means spending big money on those who can make an impact at the highest level, taking up places in the starting lineup as a result.
Most clubs don’t have many resources at this stage, however, so they are forced to prioritize starting players over those who would come off the bench. This leads to their depth being tested later in the year, which is key in determining if the club in question stay up or go straight back down.
Luckily for Sheffield United, their squad depth has passed the test in recent weeks, showcasing why the Blades are almost guaranteed to beat the drop this season.
Setting the standard
At this point, almost everyone knows the starting lineup manager Chris Wilder likes to roll out on a consistent basis. Dean Henderson is in goal, with a back three of John Egan, Chris Basham, and Jack O'Connell out in front of him.
Enda Stevens and George Baldock are the wingbacks, with Oliver Norwood, John Lundstram, and John Fleck making up the midfield three. Up top, it’s a front two of Lys Mousset and David McGoldrick usually leading the line.
That’s been the standard when everyone has been available, and fortunately for the Blades, they haven’t had to worry too much about injuries or suspensions.
In the few instances they have had to turn to their bench, however, it’s gotten the job done.
Delivering when called upon
It started at the very beginning, when Fleck picked up a knock in the second game of the season. That meant summer signing Luke Freeman had to come into the team for the following two contests, with the central midfielder putting in a solid shift and proving he can be trusted in times of need.
There weren’t any issues with the team in the weeks that followed until the Blades hosted Manchester United, when they were suddenly down two starters. Henderson was unavailable due to the fact that he was on loan from the Red Devils, while Egan had gotten hurt on international duty the week before.
Although they did concede three on the night, it was far from a shocking performance from the two replacements. Goalkeeper Simon Moore could not do much about the goals, as the Red Devils were surprisingly clinical in terms of finishing their chances.
It was a real trial by fire for Phil Jagielka as well, who was getting his first minutes in a long time, and was at least able to bring in his vast experience. It might not have been great, but the pair were still able to take a point against a big six club.
United’s most recent contest against Brighton & Hove Albion also saw two enforced changes that ultimately helped them pick up another crucial victory. Moussett, who’s arguably been the clubs player of the season, was out injured, while Fleck was serving a suspension due to yellow card accumulation. He was replaced by Freeman just like earlier in the season, while Oliver McBurnie got the start due to Moussett’s absence.
Freeman did what he needed to do in the first half before being subbed off soon after the halftime break, as fellow summer signing Ben Osborn came on to make his Premier League debut. You wouldn’t know it was his first game at the highest level, however, as the midfielder quickly adapted to the pace of play, helping United secure all three points.
The aforementioned McBurnie would prove to be the match winner, as his goal in the 23rd minute was the difference between the two sides. A long ball from Henderson made its way forward, where the Scottish international was able to head it past his marker.
McBurnie latched back onto the ball before taking a few touches, settling himself, and rifling a shot off the near post and into the back of the net. The club record signing hasn’t started too many games this season, but his well taken goal shows that he has plenty to offer no matter what role he’s used in.
Those have just been examples of players who have needed to feature in the starting XI, with many others making an impact off the bench.
Callum Robinson brings energy to the team whenever he is subbed on, and his goal at Stamford Bridge was key in the Blades eventually getting a draw versus Chelsea.
Fellow striker Billy Sharp hasn’t had the best campaign, but fans know it’s only a matter of time before the goals start pouring in for the club captain.
Muhamed Bešić hasn’t got many minutes, but he’s made the most of them when they’ve come, and he might get even more chances in the upcoming weeks.
With the hectic holiday period fast approaching, United will need to rely on their depth as the fixtures continue to pile on. Rest and rotation is key in having a successful season, and the Blades have a number of players who are just waiting for the chance to make their mark. Who knows, if things keep going the way they are, maybe fans won’t be so crazy to dream about a European place come the end of the campaign after all.