To finish ninth and reach the FA Cup quarter-finals was the Blades’ best performance in the Premier League era, yet even before the campaign finished, manager Wilder was hammering home the message that all aspects of the club had to improve for 2020-21.
He wants to go into it with a stronger squad, but has admitted funds will be tight in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and has already warned supporters not to expect any “head-turning” signings, so much of the improvement will have to come from within.
One obvious area to look at is goalscoring, with only Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and bottom two Watford and Norwich City scoring fewer league goals than the Blades’ 39.
Leeds-born McBurnie, who became the most expensive striker in the club’s history when he joined from Swansea City last summer, contributed just six – still enough to make him joint-top-scorer alongside Lys Mousset – but showed signs of growing into the campaign.
“It’s his first season in the Premier League and it’s been a long old season for him,” commented Wilder.
“He needs to recover and go again if he wants to be an established Premier League player he’s got to improve his skills. We’ve got to improve him but I think it’s been a decent effort for him for his first year in the Premier League, as it is by everybody at the football club.”
Despite his £20m transfer fee, the 24-year-old was in and out of the side in the first half of the season. Even with Wilder fond of rotating his centre-forwards as the nine behind them remain solid, McBurnie started every league match bar one from early January, and came off the bench at half-time of June’s 3-0 defeat at Manchester United.
As it seems highly unlikely the Blades will be able to afford a proven Premier League goalscorer this summer, it is up to all the strikers to increase their goal outputs
“They have to improve their skills,” argued Wilder. “Billy (Sharp)’s got another year (on his contract), we’ve got David (McGoldrick), Oli Mac and Lys. Signing the likes of Danny Ings (Southampton’s 25-goal striker) costs an awful amount of money. We’ve invested in young players this year and that’s what everybody’s after, someone who can score 20 goals like he’s done for a team that’s ultimately going to finish below us.
“We’ll look at and assess every aspect of the club.
“All I will say is the players have given me their maximum right the way through the season. I don’t think that should be forgotten about too quickly.”
Earlier this month Wilder was also critical of the lack of goals from his centre-backs, with John Egan’s two goals that department of the team’s only contribution.
He believes they should score 10 between them. Central midfielders John Fleck and John Lundstram scored five each.
When McBurnie joined it was the fourth time the Blades had broken their transfer record in the window, and the milestone was pushed out again in January when midfielder Sander Berge arrived for £23m. But Wilder has estimated coronavirus has cost his club £20m-30m in lost revenue and with a commitment to build a new headquarters building at their Shirecliffe training complex by 2021, that will be reflected in his transfer budget.
It is, though, a question of quantity as well as quality. The way the Blades struggled with a hectic post-covid schedule which allowed clubs to make two extra substitutions highlighted the need for greater squad depth.
They lost their final three games of the campaign looking justifiably tired after a season where most expected them to be involved in a relegation battle but they ended falling just short of qualifying for Europe.
“We need to strengthen the squad like everybody does,” commented Wilder. “The players need to go away and we need to improve on all our skills. We all understand that, that’s part of being in the Premier League. Certainly we need more competition.”
The Blades have signed free agent Wes Foderingham to add to their goalkeeping competition, but are waiting to hear on Dean Henderson’s future.
The 23-year-old has spent the last two seasons on loan at Bramall Lane from Manchester United and Wilder would love to take him back for a third. Henderson has made it clear that while his long-term aim is to be the Red Devils’ first-choice goalkeeper, his more immediate priority is regular football.
Manchester United have a decision to make about when to bring him back with question marks growing over the form of David De Gea, and Chelsea thought to be interested in buying Henderson.
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