This weekend West Ham travel up to South Yorkshire to play against one of the seasons surprises – Sheffield United. We of course are all buoyed by our perfomance against Bournemouth, and will be hoping for more of the same. Ahead of the game I chatted to Sam Parry of the Sheffield United Blog Dem Blades to discuss the season and the game.
Hi Sam. First, congratulations on your start to the season. Sheffield United sit 8th in the table at the midway point – you must be delighted with how you’ve played back in the Premier League? Could things have gone much better?
It feels a little otherworldly at the moment; however, there has been some continuity. Since Chris Wilder took over, we’ve won two promotions. We’ve had consistent success for three and a half years, so the actual winning part feels quite normal. But then I look at the league, realise where the club has come from, and it’s just an incredible spell of fandom. The crappy days, watching us lose 0-3 to Southend at Roots Hall, only heightens the highs we Blades are feeling now.
Obviously your players must have been at the top of their games so far, which of them have stood out for you so far?
The whole team has been on it, hence why we’ve barely changed the starting eleven all season. If I have to isolate a couple, it would be John Fleck and Enda Stevens (I want to add Jack O’Connell and George Baldock and Lys Mousset and David McGoldrick too!). Fleck is our central midfielder, and he’s an excellent ball carrier and dribbler, he can play the tippy-tappy game, he makes defence-splitting passes, and most importantly, he works so hard. (I think West Ham were linked last season.) Enda Stevens is just a phenomenal left back who we picked up from Pompey when they were in League 2. Recently I interviewed Michael Doyle (former Blades captain; the one who did the pearly king walk after we beat you in the cup on pens) and he played with Stevens at Portsmouth, he said that Stevens always had the quality for the PL.
I suppose that most of your success comes down to coaching, so you must be equally delighted with your manager – Chris Wilder?
Full disclosure: I live and work in London. I work with no Sheffield United fans – the nearest thing is a London-born Liverpool fan – and nobody cared about our promotion to the premier league. But now it’s absolutely cockle-warming to hear the praise from the Arsenal and Spurs, and City and United fans – ALL of that is down to Chris Wilder. And people clock it on Match of the Day every week; it’s brilliant. He seriously, seriously (can’t emphasise this enough), seriously improves players. Not just their performances, but from a fan’s eye view, the natural ability of players too.
The way you’ve been playing I don’t expect you’ll need much improving, but are there any areas you think could need a bit of back up in the transfer window?
Competition is what we need. Wouldn’t mind that Van Dijk off of Liverpool too.
By contrast, West Ham have had an awful half of the season after a promising (if short-livedd) start, I don’t suppose you were shocked by Pelligrini’s sacking. Do you think of David Moyes’ appointment, and will keep us up this season?
Nobody’s shocked about sackings any more, are they? I think Pellegrini would have kept you up and I think Moyes will keep you up by 4 margin on his predecessor. But I’m reticent to give strong opinions about the managers of other teams. I don’t watch enough of West Ham; I don’t know a lot about Moyes previous stint. So I shall avoid slagging off either Moyes or Pellegrini too much….BUT, if you ask me “Pellegrini or Moyes?”, then my response would have to be “No thanks!”
Talking of relegation, who are your current picks for relegation, at the beginning of the season you chose Norwich, Newcastle, and Watford?
Happy to stick to that prediction! (Not looking to bad, eh?)
Who are going to occupy the top four positions?
Liverpool, City, Leicester, Spurs.
Where are Sheffield United going to end up? You must be pretty confident of staying up already, and where do you think West Ham will finish?
I should be confident on 29 points, shouldn’t I? But I’m a pessimist. Until we have 40 points, I’ll take 17th! Honestly, I don’t know. On paper, you should finish lower mid-table, but perhaps you’re like an inverted version of the Blades: great players don’t make a great team. We’re seven points ahead of you guys now; I think I’ll be planning a European tour if we’re 7 points ahead of you on the last day of the season!
Who have been the best players that you have seen so far this season? At home, and on your travels?
My answer to that question without hesitation is Virgil van Dijk twice.
Var has made viewing of games a bit different, especially when prematurely celebrating a goal, has it made things better?
For pretty much every goal we score, I think of VAR and pause any celebration. There are some good reasons for introducing VAR, some reasons which I could support, but the way the PL has introduced the system is symptomatic of an organisation who cares more about the generalist, armchair fan than people who turn up. It’s really quite sad.
How will you line up against West Ham on Friday? Prediction for team and formation?
It’s always 3-5-2, and we’ve barely changed the team around all season. Barring injuries it will be:
Baldock, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Stevens
Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck
McGoldrick, Mousset or McBurnie
You got a draw against us at our place, are you confident that you will turn us over back at Bramall Lane? Prediction for score?
Honestly, that game was one of our toughest. Particularly the first half. I think that Pellegrini got his tactics spot-on (probably by judgement, but possibly by luck). Yarmolenko and Anderson pushed up high and pinned back our wing-backs, and we struggled to create anything in the first half. (We were much better in the second half). So what does that teach me? You can hurt us, you have a new manager…but I’m still confident. We’ll be up for it after resting eleven players against Fylde in the FA Cup. 2-0 Blades (sorry!).
(We’ve got this far without mention of Carlos Tevez!? I think I speak for all of us when I say that hatchet six feet under.)
Well many thanks to Sam for his time and comments. I do like to see promoted teams (not Leeds if they come up) doing well. But I’m back to my usual over optimistic self, and will go for a 1 – 2 away win. COYI