Everton’s hopes of European qualification hang by a thread as they host relegated Sheffield United at Goodison Park on Sunday.
With three games to go, the Blues need an upturn in home form for a start, having won just once in the league on their own turf in 2021.
And after Thursday’s goalless draw at Aston Villa left them eighth, they surely must beat the rock-bottom Blades, who beat Marco Silva’s Everton 2-0 at Goodison at the start of last season.
Sheffield United have won one and lost their seven other matches since Chris Wilder left in March, and their relegation back to the Championship after two seasons in the top-flight was confirmed in April.
Ahead of Sunday’s game, we spoke to Jon Bradley from the Sheffield United podcast, Four Blades In The Pub:
RBM: Firstly, from the outside it seemed like there may have just been one row too many between Chris Wilder and the Sheff Utd hierarchy which caused his departure in March. Is that how you saw it, and were you surprised by the decision?
Jon: It didn’t particularly come as a surprise, yet that’s not to say it was necessarily the right decision. Unfortunately, there appeared to be a wedge between both parties which seemed to get wider by the week.
Ultimately, results weren’t good enough and questions about recruitment wouldn’t be unfair, too. Many fans didn’t want him to leave; there’s an argument he almost had become bigger than the club in many respects.
RBM: Wilder still seemed to have the support of much of the Sheff Utd fan base right until the end. How much blame do you put on him for their season?
Jon: Wilder bought the players, picked the team and the tactics. He was the manager. Earlier in the season we looked to be unlucky, however that soon turned to being rubbish and at times unwatchable.
Even the most turgid of seasons has a few highlights, yet when the club sent round the voting for the end of season awards this last week, I struggled to remember some of the goals on the season shortlist; even more surprising because we have scored so few.
RBM: Has the fact that this season has been played behind closed doors made relegation any harder or easier to accept?
Jon: Personally I have never watched less football and been so disengaged. We have been down from before Christmas.
I have watched so little football and our games became a bit of chore rather than something you look forward to all week. It’s a far from ideal situation to get relegated, but the friendly nature of the season makes it a bit more bearable.
RBM: Norwich this season aside, quite a few clubs who finish rock-bottom in the Premier League have then gone on to struggle in the Championship (Derby, Wolves, Sunderland, Huddersfield, etc.). How confident are you that Sheff Utd won’t go the same way next year?
Jon: The manager and the recruitment has to be spot on. I expect to lose a few players but if we can keep some of the right ones, refresh in the right areas and add some creativity we have a good chance. But even typing that, lots has to go right doesn’t it?
RBM: Slavisa Jokanovic, who took Watford and Fulham to the Premier League and won many plaudits for his style of play, has apparently been in talks about replacing Wilder. Would he be your choice?
Jon: He would be a sensible choice of the names mentioned. People talk about a fear of us getting someone who has been on the managerial merry-go-round; thankfully, Alan Pardew et al haven’t been linked, but more alarmingly Michael Appleton [Lincoln manager] has.
If we are going for a name, we know Jokanovic. If we are being a bit more daring, I would be happy to go with someone from Europe who has a decent CV; however, for every Mauricio Pochettino there is an Alain Perrin.
RBM: Everton have been linked with Sheff Utd midfielder Sander Berge, whose release clause is said to have fallen to £12 million following relegation. What have you made of him?
Jon: He’s dreadful; you’d be better off with John Lundstram.
Joking aside, he’s a very good player and can do very well at most clubs I would say - that release clause sounds laughable though. I would like to think we can command at least what we bought him for as a fee [reportedly £22 million]!
RBM: How do you expect Sheff Utd to set up on Sunday?
Jon: With the same ineffective system we have had all season which is a unique blend of: being overrun and outnumbered in the box despite having five at the back, meshed beautifully with a blunt attack where we try to get it to one of our strikers such as Oliver Burke, who then falls over.
RBM: Who do you think can cause Everton the most problems?
Jon: Yerry Mina likes to drop a clanger doesn’t he, or Jordan Pickford until recently? I wouldn’t worry about any of our players.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
Jon: We might huff and puff a bit but Everton will win comfortably, 3-0.
Our thanks to Jon for his time.