Sheffield United cannot afford to stand still in pursuit of instant Premier League return

Tuesday’s signing of George Byers took Sheffield Wednesday’s recruits into double figures this week. Across the city, Sheffield United are yet to make any. Their season starts at home to Birmingham City on Saturday evening.

A good transfer window is about more than numbers. Sometimes less is more. The Owls needed drastic surgery in their first close-season under Darren Moore’s management after releasing 10 players in the summer (they later re-signed Sam Hutchinson) and Celtic taking another couple.

Although they too were relegated and much more comprehensively, the Blades do not need an overhaul. Their squad was heavy on what some detractors might have unfairly called “Championship players” (ignoring them finishing ninth in the 2019-20 Premier League) but it is not a bad thing in the Championship.

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Even without any additions beyond a new manager at the time of writing, the bookies make the Blades third favourites for promotion. The only two thought more likely are Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, fourth are Bournemouth, showing how parachute payments are unfairly skewing the second tier.

Sheffield United manager, Slavisa Jokanovic. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Even so, there is a need for some freshening and Slavisa Jokanovic is pushing for it.

He has not come to mimic Chris Wilder football so there will clearly be some new formations, different nuances and different needs.

There was a clear blueprint from last season’s parachute regiment. Generally it was about keeping a formula that worked last time in the Championship.

Daniel Farke was retained despite Norwich City’s pathetic 2020 restart, Watford changed manager which for them is continuity, and whilst Bournemouth changed too, replacing the long-serving Eddie Howe with his assistant Jason Tindall was hardly radical.

Sheffield United goalkeeper, Aaron Ramsdale. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

All sold a few £15m-plus players – Jamal Lewis and York’s Ben Godfrey leaving Norwich and Abdoulaye Doucoure and Pervis Estupinan out at Watford, Nathan Ake, Callum Wilson and Aaron Ramsdale waving goodbye to Bournemouth.

Norwich made around £32m on transfers despite 11 signings, Watford £42m with six in. Bournemouth were about £72m up with only two new faces. Sixth place suggests too much and too little.

None of this season’s relegated sides have yet made a big sale, probably partly because it is such a difficult market, but for the Blades there is a good problem on top of it: there is no one they desperately want to go.

Whilst Valerien Ismael seems set on bombing Matheus Pereira out of West Bromwich Albion, unimpressed by his attitude, no one at Bramall Lane appears to be doing Harry Kane impersonations.

Sheffield United midfielder, Sander Berge . Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Having joined as a Champions League midfielder, it seemed inevitable for months Sander Berge would leave this window and the smart money is still on that, but he is neither a trouble-maker nor a fancy dan who would be a fish out of water in the more rugged second tier.

Goalkeeper Ramsdale could easily cite England ambitions as a reason he “has” to leave and like Berge, Arsenal appear willing to take him but both were at Doncaster Rovers sweating away in pre-season last week.

George Baldock has been interesting Celtic, but not so much that they forced a sale through before the dismal start of their European campaign.

Strikers can be sacrificed but fall into three camps: those bought for the Premier League who did not shine there, popular servants like Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick with Championship track records, and youngsters they would rather loan out.

The window is open until August 31, but the Blades will not want a deadline-day trolley dash. They rarely end well.

They do, though, need new impetus. John Lundstram’s departure weakened the midfield certainly from its 2019-20 peak, Kean Bryan and Phil Jagielka left the defensive unit. Ethan Ampadu‘s loan is over. Jack O’Connell posted on social media he will be “back soon” but after nearly a year out with a knee injury, it is unfair to expect too much too soon from a centre-back whose absence was a big factor in relegation.

It will take more than simply a new manager to believe things will be different in 2021-22.

With talk of Ronaldo Vieira, James Garner, Tom Cairney and others, it seems optimistic the Blades can add to their squad without selling, but to reluctantly sacrifice one big player to allow perhaps three of decent standing could be a big help.

Success earned on the training field is more gratifying than that bought with the chequebook, but standing still is not an option for a club which does not want to stay in the division it has landed in.