Midway through his pre-match press conference, George Baldock lets out a big sigh.
The right wing-back has just been asked if Sheffield United can maintain fifth position in the Premier League and qualify for Europe. Next he is asked about playing international football.
The formation, although it’s quite simple, is complex at the same time. There’s a lot of interchanging and the way we press everyone needs to be on the same page.George Baldock
At the start of the season, some might have foreseen the Boxing Day encounter between the Blades and Watford being between the teams fifth and bottom of the table, but not that the newly-promoted Blades would be in the loftier position.
Manager Chris Wilder is not one to let his players get too big for their boots, hence the sharp intake of breath when Baldock is asked about a push for Europe.
“I don’t know,” he replies, “it’s too early to say that. If anyone had told us we’d be fifth in the Premier League after 18 games, a lot of people would be asking how much you’d had to drink but we’re here on merit.
“It’ll be tough to keep up this form for the rest of the season but with this gaffer, these lads and with the fans behind us, who knows where it can take us?
“Europe wasn’t so much an ambition, more like a dream, but we’ll take each game as it comes.
“We’re just trying to get points on the board, get to that points tally that we all wanted at the start of the season (presumably the 40-point mark teams target to avoid relegation), then see where we can go. The gaffer won’t allow us to look too far ahead.”
This grounded team is based around graft. Wilder rarely rotates anyone but his strikers, despite putting huge physical demands on his players. Midfielders John Lundstram and John Fleck are expected to arrive late in the box and get goals, centre-backs Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell to bomb down the wings.
As for Baldock and Enda Stevens, Wilder asks so much of his wing-backs he joking calls them “right idiot and left idiot”.
“I can see where he’s coming from!” says Baldock. “It’s a lot of hard work but we’re backed up by such honest, hard-working lads, so if you get caught upfield you’ve got 10 other lads willing to put their bodies on the line and cover you.
“Me and Jack O’Connell are always comparing because he thinks he’s got the hardest role and I thinks it’s me. Then John Lundstrum comes up with his ridiculous stats and he says he’s got the hardest role!
“It’s a tough ask to play in this formation but if you all buy into it and you’re willing to work hard you can see it work.
“When I first came, I was thrown into the deep end, we played 11 v 11 in training. Me and Enda signed at the same time and we were on different teams looking at each other thinking, ‘Where are we going here?’ following each other around. Then the manager would get you in, look at videos and tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing.
“The gaffer trusts that you’re an intelligent player and you can pick up what you need to. It was very much sink or swim, it was definitely the best way to learn.
“The formation, although it’s quite simple, is complex at the same time. There’s a lot of interchanging and the way we press everyone needs to be on the same page.
“It’s little partnerships – me and John Lundstrum, Enda and Flecky, Enda and Jack.”
Baldock has been doing it so well, people are speaking of him as a future international. With Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Kyle Walker around, winning a cap as an English right-back could scarcely be harder, but he also has a Greek grandmother.
“I’m fully focussed on Sheffield United,” he says. “There’s no international games for a while so we’ll see what happens.
“I’ve spoken to the gaffer about it. He just basically told me to get my head down. It’s not in-depth conversations about what I should do because I’ve got no option at the minute.”
That same no-nonsense approach means the Blades will not treat Watford’s visit any differently to their next two games, at Liverpool and Manchester City.
“No, and I’m not just saying that,” insists Baldock. “We’ve been like this for three years now. It’s going into the next game and seeing how we can deal with that first.
“When you get promoted to the Premier League, Anfield, Man City, Man United etcetera are the first fixtures you look for. There’s no point working really hard to get promoted from the Championship to be scared of these occasions, you need to really relish them but we’ve got a really tough game first.
“Every game we need to be at our best to get a result and I’m sure the gaffer will go about it the same way. We’ll look at them, see where we can try and hurt them and try to put on a performance and get a result.”
Last six: Sheffield United DDLWWW; Watford LLLDLW.
Referee: D Coote (Nottinghamshire).
Last time: Sheffield United 0 Watford 1, October 2, 2010, Championship.