It has been some time since last Everton played Sheffield United; the Toffees would finish tenth in the league - mere points and injuries from the inaugural Premier League UECL spot - while the Blades would finish dead last in the league, with nearly 30 losses.
Fast forward to Saturday, and the sides will be bossed by the likes of Sean Dyche and Paul Heckingbottom instead of Carlo Ancelotti and Chris Wilder. Everton is far from tenth, but the Blades are looking for points too. The teams are different as well, but the Blues are hoping to jumpstart their season at Sheffield whether Dominic Calvert-Lewin plays in his hometown or not.
A difficult victory against Doncaster Rovers on Wednesday in the Carabao Cup with goals by new boys Beto and Arnaut Danjuma must be parlayed; United is a great opportunity to get on the board while getting out of early-season relegation territory.
RBM: First off, what is the mood around Sheffield United supporters, the side, the training grounds, and Bramall Lane after a difficult start to the season?
I don’t think the mood is too down. Yes, we’ve lost all three but Palace was always going to be hard with the XI we had. Forest we were great and deserved a point at least and we were within minutes of taking a point off City too. The window was a nightmare at one point with Ndiaye and then Berge leaving, but we’ve brought nine in, with hopefully two more on deadline day. The feeling is we will get better and better but there’s a realism that we have zero on the board; getting a win before the break would feel massive.
RBM: For those who haven’t been keeping up with United since last they were in the Premier League, would you tell us a bit about the team, how they play, how they’re coached, and the differences between this side and its predecessor?
Hecky has very much stuck to the principles of three at the back which proved successful under Wilder. There’s been a slight change in we now look more 3-4-3 than 3-5-2, but with Archer signed, we could revert back to two up top this weekend. Hecky very much wants us to play front-foot pressing football, but it’s easier said than done at this level.
As for Heckingbottom, he’s a stickler for details and is very much a hands-on coach/manager. He’s well-liked by the players and comes across like a bit of a father figure to a lot of the younger lads.
RBM: Let’s talk transfers; how was the summer for Sheffield, and where could the side still look to upgrade during the next available window?
The summer has been tough but in the end, not bad. Losing Iliman Ndiaye was a nightmare. Much was made or Sander Berge leaving too, but most Blades will tell you £14m wasn’t bad business for him, really.
Incomings wise, we’ve had to be smart. We’ve gone for some young and upcoming players from Europe like Slimane, Traore, and Larouci. Vini Souza, too, is unknown but has looked good. We spent a good fee on Gus Hamer, who looks impressive, and Luke Thomas is a solid signing at left-back.
All in all, it’s been ok in the end if we can James McAtee back and maybe one more before the deadline, that would be class.
RBM: We must also talk - of course - about Paul Heckingbottom; tell us about the boss, how he likes you all playing, and your thoughts on how that will translate in the Premier League?
He’s a class act, in my view. He picked up a sinking ship from Slavisa Jokanovic and has been superb since. He’s very measured and gives little away to the press but does have a fire in his belly, too, and is very protective of the players. I think he’ll do well at the PL level. Stuart McCall and Jack Lester are a good foil for him as well on the staff, and they work well together. Tactically, Lester says he’s never known a manager to see the game so quickly and adapt in-game with tweaks, so that says a lot really. Overall, I really like him and personally, think he’s outdone Chris Wilder in some ways.
RBM: Who are some of the players on the squad that are under the radar that should be appreciated better?
George Baldock is brilliant at right wing-back. He’s so intense, and not many beat him one on one. Wes Foderingham in goal has been outstanding in the opening games too despite some wanting him replaced. Oli Norwood remains a class act as well, despite often being the first to get criticism. Anel Ahmedhodzic has been brilliant at the back since we signed him, too.
RBM: How do you expect the Blades to set up on Saturday, and which of those names do you think could cause Everton the most trouble?
We’ll probably go 3-5-2 with McBurnie back and Archer starting alongside him. That would be my guess. Of the XI, eyes will be on Archer if he gets the nod. He’s the £18m signing, and there’s a lot of expectation on his young shoulders. Gus Hamer can win the game on his own, too. We saw his goal at Forest prove that, and he’s the midfielder United will look towards to drive us forward.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
I think it will be a tense affair, and Everton will score. But…I can’t not say a win, so I’ll go 2-1 Blades, McBurnie, and Ahmedhodzic with the goals.
We thank Lee for his time as always!