After nearly three months away, the Premier League is finally set to return in a week's time.
The league was forced to halt play in early March, as the coronavirus pandemic spread all over Europe. Rules and regulations at the time forced everyone to isolate from each other, but loads of progress has been made since, and the government has now allowed the EPL to return. Fans can’t attend games just yet, but they’ll be more than happy to see English football back on their televisions.
The very first contest of the restart will feature Sheffield United, who go on the road to take on Aston Villa at Villa Park.
United have been the Premier League’s Cinderella story this season. After winning promotion from the Championship, many were quick to write off the team with little cash and few recognizable names. However, the Blades have proven all of their doubters wrong, and they now sit all the way up in 7th place in the league standings.
Their earlier success is in the past, though, as United now have to get ready for the upcoming restart. With several games coming in quick succession, their squad depth will be tested.
Will the Blades bench step up when need be and help the team finish in a European spot, or will they falter and end the campaign on a disappointing note?
No earlier need for rotation
A big reason why United were so good before the hiatus was due to the consistency of their starting lineup.
Manager Chris Wilder knew how he wanted the team to play, and he knew who needed to be on the field to get the job done.
Dean Henderson was the man in goal, while the trio of Chris Basham, John Egan, and Jack O’Connell made up the heart of the defense. Then there was George Baldock and Enda Stevens, who went up and down the field on each wing.
Blockbuster January transfer Sander Berge came into the midfield alongside Oliver Norwood and John Fleck, with John Lundstram also featuring when needed. Up top, Billy Sharp and Oliver McBurnie had started to form a dynamic striker partnership.
The Blades pretty much rolled out the same starting XI on a weekly basis. To be fair, they were incredibly lucky to be able to do that, as other teams didn’t have the same luxury.
United never had to deal with any long term injuries, and the few suspensions they did have only lasted a game. They also did not have to worry about many midweek matches, as they weren’t in any European competition, and were even eliminated from the Carabao Cup early on.
It’s unlikely the Blades will be able to do the same when the league restarts. The games will be coming thick and fast, and fatigue will quickly become an issue. Players will need time to regain the match fitness they lost during the break, and overusing them could lead to injuries down the line.
Wilder will have to rely on the rest of his squad in the coming weeks, and it’ll be up to those players to prove they are ready.
Time to shine
Luckily for United, they know they’ve got plenty of quality off the bench.
Lys Mousset started the season in excellent form up top, and even though he’s calmed down since then, he can easily heat back up in a moment's notice. Then there’s David McGoldrick. The Irishman may have not scored a single goal this season, but he does so much more for the team up top that the score sheet doesn’t show.
In the midfield, Muhamed Besic has excelled whenever given the chance, and will be primed to do so again whenever called upon. The same can be said for Luke Freeman, who brings an air of grace and a new dynamic to an otherwise uber industrial team.
The Blades also have defensive depth as well, with the incredibly experienced Phil Jagielka able to cover centrally in case of injury or suspension. Then there's Ben Osborn, as well as the recently acquired Jack Robinson, who are both able to come in and give either Stevens or Baldock a rest on the wing during midweek matchups.
They’ve even got a few January signings who have yet to make their club debut. Centre-back Panagiotis Retsos was brought in on loan from Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, while former phenom Richairo Zivkovic also came to Bramall Lane on loan after failing to restart his career in China. Both possess loads of talent, and have also had plenty of time to acclimate to life in England, so they should be ready to go when need be.
For a club that is far from wealthy, United have still managed to build a well-rounded roster that will be ready for whatever the Premier League restart throws at them. It’ll be tough, of course, but Blades fans should still hold on to their European dreams.