Sheffield United v Manchester City: Concentration key as Blades get ready to jump on the carousel

AGGRESSION: John Egan goes toe to toe with Aymeric Laporte in 2020AGGRESSION: John Egan goes toe to toe with Aymeric Laporte in 2020
AGGRESSION: John Egan goes toe to toe with Aymeric Laporte in 2020
IN AN era of blanket Premier League television coverage, everybody knows what Manchester City are, and what they can do. Even so, it can still be a shock coming up against it for the first time.

The one crumb of comfort as Sheffield United prepare to host Pep Guardiola's treble-winners before having their first-half-of-the-season squad fully assembled is there will be plenty in red and white on Sunday who have recent memories of being on what Sir Alex Ferguson memorably called "the carousel".

It was only in late April the Blades faced City at Wembley in an FA Cup semi-final, and there is a fair chance six of their starters that day will kick off at Bramall Lane too.

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John Egan has played in the five most recent games between the clubs, all won by the Citizens. When the likes of Ederson, Kevin de Bruyne, John Stones and Rodri had their feet up four months ago, he had the dubious pleasure of dealing with Erling Haaland – and stopped him scoring.

CHALLENGE: Sheffield United manager Paul HeckingbottomCHALLENGE: Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom
CHALLENGE: Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom

Standing on the Wembley touchline for his first game against English football's most recognisable team, there will still things which took manager Paul Heckingbottom by surprise that evening.

"The little details with the ball," he says. "That game was a reminder about the detail, what they do, how they pass the ball, how they look after the ball. There is a different level, definitely, and they're right up there.

"You can still learn things, especially when it's right in front of you.

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"Not just City, you see in different games lots of moments. It could be how you want to press and win the ball back and there's just someone who handles the ball great or a little movement before they receive the ball which just puts players on the back step. It could be the physicality of a player you've never faced.

THE BEST: Manchester City striker Erling HaalandTHE BEST: Manchester City striker Erling Haaland
THE BEST: Manchester City striker Erling Haaland

"There's certainly a jump up, as there is in all the leagues. City are possibly the biggest jump you'll see.

"I would have thought their aim now is to try and dominate Europe – this is just me guessing – but to grow their club and the size, you've always got targets, you've always got to strive for things.

"I look at the European Super Cup and the team they put out and how they celebrated.”

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Ask Egan what to expect, as a few team-mates new to the Premier League having signed from overseas or come up through the academy might be well advised to, and the C word is never far from his lips.

"Concentration is a big part," he explains. "We know we have to be on it 100 per cent to get something out of the game.

"You can draw on experiences of playing against them in the past and relay them to players who might not have. Lads aren't shy on speaking their mind and relaying it to people.

"They are where they are because they've got top quality and we have to put our own gameplan into action and be at it 100 per cent.

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"We know they're a team that likes to dominate possession so we're going to have to come up with a gameplan to be as aggressive as we can and perform as well as we can."

If City represent the biggest jump in quality as a team, Haaland arguably represents the biggest as an individual for a player like Egan.

"The goals he's scoring are insane," he says. "His all-round game is unbelievable and that's why he's got the goals he has. It's (about us) as a team and how we set up.

"We defended very well for the majority of that (Cup) game, our concentration was high and we did take confidence from that."

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But if Haaland was the only City player – apart from James McAtee and Tommy Doyle – mentioned in the pre-match press conference, he is far from the only threat. Egan and co kept the Leeds-born striker quiet at Wembley, only for Riyad Mahrez to score a hat-trick.

"You only have to flick on any City game and the pundits are waxing lyrical about them," says Heckingbottom. "That doesn't catch you out.

"You have to be at your best, sometimes you have to be selfless and help out your team-mate. You've got to give them something on the pitch but are you giving them an area which is less dangerous for you?"

And there has to be a willingness to take the game to superior opponents sensibly and at the right time.

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"We have to land enough to create enough chances," says the manager. "It's easier said than done but we've got to play with an intent. Even if they're at their best and we're in our defensive third there has to be an intent in how we want to defend and still be aggressive to deny space.

"We know how difficult it's going to be."

So far, so daunting. But this is what the Blades wanted when slogging around the second tier's less glamorous venues last season.

"We've always (been underdogs) coming up into the Premier League – the last time was the same," argues Egan. "We relish it, we believe in ourselves and the squad.

"That's why we worked so hard last season and wanted to get promoted into the Premier League. We wanted to be testing ourselves week in, week out, and improving as a team. There's no bigger test than Man City, the reigning champions.

"There was a fierce buzz when we got promoted and now we're training hard every week to try and improve on the last week.

"Playing in the best league in the world, you just have to relish it."