'Availability over ability' is the mantra for Chris Wilder as Sheffield United learn big recruitment lesson in Premier League

FOR CHRIS Wilder, the biggest area where Sheffield United’s players have been found wanting this season is not in their technical or tactical ability or their mentality either.

In his view, it is everything to do with physicality and it represents the major lesson which the club must learn from going forward.

In all likelihood, that will be back in the Championship, with Wilder candidly admitting that the Blades have not got bang for their buck in terms of their recruitment last summer in preparing for the demands of a Premier League season which exposes flaws in players pretty quickly and sometimes savagely.

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Out of their permanent signings, only Gus Hamer, with 26 league starts, has shown the durability required to step up to the big time.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images.Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images.
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images.

For most of Wilder’s first golden spell in charge at Bramall Lane, his team’s consistency in terms of selection and performance levels was admirable.

It was a team which picked itself for much of his time there and possessed the strongest of spines.

So Wilder must try and go back to the future in that regard.

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Wilder, whose side welcome Chelsea on Sunday (5.30pm) said: “It’s the biggest thing I have spoken to, in terms of recruitment, to the board.

"We must have robust, fit, mobile and physically strong players available and strong enough to deal with whatever division we are playing in.

"We know the Championship and now we know what the Premier League is all about and how physically challenging it is.

"We’ve talked about tactical, technical and mental, but the biggest one for me is that you have got to go the distance. It’s something I have not been used to (not having) here as we’ve always had that ability to do that (before).

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"There’s a lot of moving parts as to why we haven’t and we need to settle all that down and make sure we deal with all those issues, so that whatever division we are in next season we learn and are lots better from that point of view.

"It’s availability over ability in some ways (regarding new signings). I’ve got to look at all the players and are they going to give me a 38-game or 46-game season?

"We have got to look at that as financially if we are paying someone ‘X’ amount of money and they are only available for 50 per cent, we are not getting the true value of that player.

"Availability for training is just as important in terms of working on things we need to do - unit work, individual work, team work.

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"When these players aren’t available, we can’t do that, so we cannot improve ourselves on the training ground."

United do report some good news on the injury front with Cameron Archer available again following a calf injury.

The ex-Middlesbrough loanee’s last appearance was back on February 10.

Hamer, treated in the aftermath of playing his part in the Blades’ shock equaliser at Liverpool, is being assessed and Wilder is hopeful he will be involved.

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Wilder added: “Cameron Archer will be involved, so that’s good news. He’s been out for a while and is a good one to have back in the group.

"We can have one or two injuries, but you really can’t afford to have big actors, big players like Cam out for these long periods. It’s been a big blow. So to get him back is great.”

United face a Chelsea side buoyed by Thursday’s dramatic Cole Palmer-inspired 4-3 win over Manchester United.

On the road, the Blues have largely struggled, with lowly Everton (19) having eclipsed their haul of 18 points, with the London outfit having lost more away games than they have won so far in 2023-24.

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Taking that with a pinch of salt, Wilder added: “We’ll prepare for the amazing Chelsea. I should imagine seeing the manager’s reaction (on Thursday), he will be as frustrated as anyone regarding the situation with consistency.

"They are still in with a shout of European football. Look at what they’ve got and brought in."