Trust remains an issue for Slavisa Jokanovic at Sheffield United

Slavisa Jokanovic says his improving Sheffield United players still need to trust one another more, and that Rhian Brewster and Oliver Burke in particular have to push themselves harder to fulfil their potential.

The Blades’ game has gone up a couple of levels since they last faced today’s Championship visitors, Derby County, in the League Cup just four-and-a-half weeks ago.

Since three deadline-day signings and September’s international break they have been a much more potent attacking force, resulting in two wins and two draws, albeit the last of them ended in a penalty shoot-out defeat to Premier League Southampton.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But after some of the exciting attacking play prompted by the likes of Iliman Ndiaye, Morgan Gibbs-White and Billy Sharp, one of the most refreshing things was how critical manager Jokanovic was of his side after last weekend’s 3-1 win at Hull City, which he felt should have been more comfortable.

Slavisa Jokanovic manager of Sheffield Utd. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“I still don’t believe my team trusts itself enough, we’ve not definitely found what we want to do but we are heading in the right direction,” the Serb reflected. “If we can do this it will be a really important start for us.

“A lot of what the most experienced players can’t do the young players can, and this is the collaboration I want and the trust between them. We are one group and it’s not important who was born in which year.

“They are starting to find a balance and collaborate in the right direction.”

Two players who need to up their games are Brewster and Burke, forwards whose futures could be in the wide positions of Jokanovic’s preferred 4-2-3-1.

Brewster has scored in the League Cup and for England Under-21s this season, but the club record signing is still to score in 33 league appearances for the Blades. Burke’s last goal was the winner at Manchester United in January, three weeks after opening his account for the club.

A lack of trust in himself is the biggest problem Jokanovic has identified in Burke, who was close to leaving in August, as well as a shortage of concentration.

“He is a Sheffield United player, what happened is not important and he is fighting to be on the field,” he said of a player who is a doubt for today’s game with a bruised heel.

“His biggest mistake is not to trust in himself. This player has some valid characteristics and if people ask why I don’t use some of them, it is my job and I must upset people around me. They must be professional and put me in more trouble.

“Burkey can attack very well, he has a lot of speed and we need to help him to find the right timing and moments to find the spaces.

“We expect him to collaborate, be more clever on the field, and don’t switch off. He needs to be always available for the support on the field.

“Rhian needs to improve, definitely, to make a step forward and not be comfortable in his situation because we are talking about one of the biggest talents in English football and he needs to push himself to the highest level. We are here to help him and support him but the rest depends on him.

“I don’t want to say he’s not working well enough, he tries, he’s focused and concentrated on all the instruction we give him.

“I’ve tried to use him sometimes in different positions to his natural position. Does a guy 21-years-old have a natural position? I don’t know. He needs to open his mind, trust himself and work hard with more desire, more focus, more concentration.”

Today’s game is Derby’s first since the 12-point deduction that has put them bottom of the Championship on minus two points. They lost August’s League Cup tie 2-1 after taking the lead.

“That they are bottom of the table is an artificial thing for different mistakes, not for on-pitch mistakes, coach’s mistakes or players’ mistakes,” stressed Jokanovic.

“It’s a really complicated game for us. There is the possibility they will still have the highest level of desire and this is the Championship, if you are a little bit relaxed you will pay a very high price. They play very good football. Against us (last month) they did not have their best starting XI but they put us in a lot of trouble. We can do a better job too.

“Derby are not a bottom team.”

Blades preview: Page 2