Sheffield United v Sunderland - Blades are urged to focus on Black Cats and not Liverpool

WOE betide anyone who makes the merest hint of a suggestion that this evening’s cup tie might not overly matter to Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder.

Sheffield United's Richard Stearman celebrates scoring his side's first goal against Blackburn in the Carabao Cup (Picture: PA)

Less than three days on from tonight’s Carabao Cup appointment with Sunderland, the Blades welcome Champions League holders and current Premier League leaders Liverpool to Bramall Lane for the first time in just over 13 years.

Given that the marquee appointment with Jurgen Klopp’s side is likely to have been one of the first dates that Unitedites checked out when the Premier League fixtures were unveiled in June, it is surely not doing a disservice to say that it takes major pre-eminence over this evening.

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Ask Wilder, though, and it still matters, even if the Blades side who line up tonight will be a vastly different than the one who took the field at Everton on Saturday.

Sheffield United's Ravel Morrison (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

That much is obvious by Wilder’s harsh reaction on himself after fronting up and taking some of the blame for what he perceived to be a ‘disjointed performance’ in the narrow win over Blackburn Rovers in the previous round.

For him, high standards are sacrosanct and the Blades manager is also alive to the notion of fringe players using tonight’s game to put themselves in the ‘shop window’ to be involved in some part against Liverpool.

Wilder, likely to hand starts to Mo Besic, Ben Osborn and Ravel Morrison, among others, said: “It is tough to get fluidity. I take responsibility and have to make decisions to benefit us, not just on the night, but in the medium and longer term.

“Of course when we make an amount of changes, you wonder how they go. Sometimes it clicks, at times not so. Fingers crossed, but we will work and prepare and respect the opposition and do as much homework as we will on the champions of Europe this weekend. We have to, and always do respect, (rival) teams.

“We work on the training ground, come in and prepare because we want to win. Players have to be prepared professionally and we have to give them the best opportunity for them to perform, so there are no excuses.

“We will have some talented boys playing and I am looking forward to seeing them go well.

“We were not fluid against Blackburn, but got the job done. I am looking forward to seeing us play well and progress and win and be in next round.

“It is an opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim, with the lead-up as well to quite a big game on Saturday.”

One of those eager to make the most of his opportunity tonight is experienced defender Richard Stearman, who netted in the previous round against Blackburn.

With his opportunities at league level having been limited over the past year or so by the outstanding form of John Egan, Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham, the seasoned professional knows that the club’s continued involvement in this particular Cup is a competitive lifeline for him.

Good performances will be noted by one of the most perceptive and streetwise managers on the circuit in Wilder – and bad ones as well.

Stearman said: “It is a great opportunity for us to get some minutes on the green stuff and give a bit of a headache, hopefully.

“Attitude is key. In the previous round, we had to overcome a good side who played well. It is about us putting in a good performance, having the right attitude and hopefully coming through.

“Ask any footballer and they want to play games but I would like to think that I kept myself right and prepared as if I was going to play last year and did well when I was called upon.

“Certain players last season on the fringes found themselves in the team and secured us big wins. It is the same this year with a 25-man squad and we have got to be ready. You have to train well and prepare well or the opportunity might pass you by.

“We have done incredibly well. It is hard to complain as I enjoy watching them play. (John) Egan been fantastic over the last couple of years and I am a big fan of his and try to help when I can.

“It is tough on the outside when the boys playing so well. We you have got to bide your time and be prepared for when the opportunity arises and try to take it.”

Tonight, United face a Sunderland side who surprised hosts Burnley in the last round, with the Wearsiders likely to embrace their temporary underdog status – given that an overwhelming sense of expectation is thrust onto their shoulders whenever they step out at League One level.

Wilder said: “Sunderland are a huge club in their division. People talk about expectation levels and that will have changed for them because we are expected to win no matter what team we put out. They will be expected to win in League One.”

Last six games: WLWDLW; Sunderland WWLWDD.

Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex).

Last time: Sheffield United 3 Sunderland 0, December 26, 2017; Championship.