One United manager goes into the weekend fifth in the Premier League, looking to kick on after a positive month was halted by the international break. The other is under pressure.
While Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was fending off questions in his pre-match press conference about his position, Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder was reflecting on an excellent start to life back in the top flight.
The Blades have already played a role in seeing off one ‘Big Six’ manager this week, Mauricio Pochettino sacked by Tottenham Hotspur after a home draw against Wilder’s in-form side. Some feel the Argentinian’s availability makes Solskjaer more vulnerable and, if so, the Blades are not opponents he would want to face.
As usual, the emphasis will be more on what the big club is doing wrong than what the Blades are getting so right when the television cameras roll tomorrow.
Not that Wilder will lose too much sleep. He was keen to stress the 1-1 draw at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was as much about what his side did well as what their lower-ranked opponents got wrong, but it makes the already slender chance of his players getting carried away even smaller.
“People say, ‘They’ve had an off-day and they’ve had an off-day’,” said Wilder, whose team have also beaten Crystal Palace, Everton, Arsenal and Burnley, and taken a point at Chelsea. “I’d like to think we’ve had an on-day every once in a while.”
“When (Leicester City manager) Brendan Rodgers and (Liverpool’s) Jurgen Klopp came into my office (after games against the Blades) you got the sense they knew they had to do a lot of things right to get the win.”
That Sheffield United are in a Europa League place this morning with the Red Devils two behind is neither here nor there to Wilder.
As theirs is the weekend’s penultimate Premier League kick-off, the picture will have changed by 4.30pm tomorrow.
Wilder did not get where he is today by getting ahead of himself, any more than by being star-struck.
“Whatever is put in front of you, you have a chance to beat,” he reasoned.
“We’re not an arrogant group, but we want to push them all the way. The key is always going to be to look at the next game and never past it. Yeah, we’re fifth, but in terms of points there is nothing in it.
“We’re only 12 games in, our players will not get big-headed, they wouldn’t let themselves and I wouldn’t let them either.”
Assuming Solskjaer pops into Wilder’s office tomorrow evening, he would be well advised to try to learn from his opposite number. While the Red Devils struggle to find consistent patterns of play, the Blades were working like clockwork before the pause for Euro 2020 qualifiers. With his overlapping centre-backs, attack-minded wing-backs, goalscoring midfielders and selfless centre-forwards knitting everything together, they have continued a formula that manages to be both solid at the back and exciting going forward.
If the Norwegian is after any trade secrets, though, he will go home disappointed.
“They’ve just worked hard,” said Wilder. “They have to be good mentally, tactically and physically. There’s a lot of work on the training ground. We’re not doing anything that’s unique here.”
Stability has been a big feature of Wilder’s success, but he will be without at least one, possibly two, of his eight Premier League ever-presents tomorrow.
On-loan goalkeeper Dean Henderson is unable to face his parent club, while Wilder will take medical advice on whether centre-back John Egan should play after a clash of heads playing for the Republic of Ireland on Monday.
“The boys who aren’t in (the team) are putting pressure, huge pressure, on the boys who are in there,” said Wilder. “But if John is available, he will play. If he misses out, Jags (Phil Jagielka) will play. The good thing is Phil’s experience and he’s got loads of it in the Premier League.”
Lundstram’s extra incentive to down Red Devils: Page 3.