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What we love about Sheffield United

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be detailing what we love about each Premier League club competing in the 2019-20 season and next up it is Sheffield United.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release details on why who adore each team in particular as we remind ourselves just how awesome the PL is as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Time to focus on the Blades.


Chris Wilder: The local lad done good. Chrissy Wilder has taken his boyhood club from the third division to the upper echelons of the Premier League in a few seasons and has done it with a clear playing philosophy and a no-nonsense attitude. Ask any player or manager who has got on the wrong side of Wilder. They will not have forgotten. Wilder has put in the hard graft at multiple lower league clubs over the years and is making the most of his opportunity to manage in the top-flight. His hunger and grit is visible throughout his playing staff and what Wilder says goes. The fans adore him and chant his name and if he wasn’t Sheffield United’s manager he would be watching Sheffield United in the stands with them. That is why we love Chrissy Wilder.

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Overlapping center backs: One of the main reasons Wilder has had success at his hometown club is due to his interesting and revolutionary tactics. Overlapping center backs is now a term synonymous with the Blades and they have taken the Premier League by storm by overloading out wide. Often you will see Chris Basham, John Egan and Jack O’Connell meander forward and support attacks and this works because midfielders John Fleck and Oliver Norwood sit deep and cover. Sheffield United are a well-oiled machine and the majority of this squad have been playing together for at least two full seasons. Continuity helps and even though everyone knows about overlapping center backs, Premier League have struggled to figure it out.

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Their dramatic European push: That shows as Sheffield United sit in seventh place, five points off fourth place, with nine games to go. The Blades are having an incredible first season back in the Premier League after their promotion to the top-flight and they are tough to beat and eight of their 11 wins have been by one-goal margins. Sheffield United are well in the race to qualify for the Europa League and if fifth-place ends up being a Champions League spot then they are well in the hunt for UCL qualification too. Behind Liverpool winning the title, Sheffield United qualifying for Europe will be the story of the 2019-20 Premier League season.

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Steel City swagger: There’s a likeable arrogance and confidence about this Sheffield United team. England’s Steel City has fallen on tough times in recent decades but Sheffield is a tough and proud city. The Blades are an extension of that and right now they are the pride of Yorkshire with Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United and Hull City in the Championship. From Billy Sharp’s poaching and Chris Wilder’s masterful management, two locals are leading Sheffield United’s charge up the Premier League and that is so rare in this day and age. That is why the fans, players and staff all feel so connected and the feel-good spirit continues at Sheffield United. Bramall Lane has been bouncing all season long.

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Latest PL update following meeting with EFL, PFA

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The Premier League, English Football League and Professional Footballers’s Association released a joint-statement following a meeting between the three sides held on Friday.

[ MORE: Friday’s transfer rumor roundup | Thursday | Wednesday ]

Notably, it was revealed that the four leagues in question — the PL and three Football League competitions — will not resume until April 30 at the earliest. The goal of the meeting was to “mitigate the economic impact of the current suspension of professional football in England” and set in place a plan for how the leagues, which feed clubs to one another through promotion and relegation, can remain in lockstep as they transition from one season to the next.

The full statement can be read below:

The Premier League, EFL and PFA met today and discussed the growing seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was stressed that the thoughts of all three organizations continue to be with everyone affected by the virus.

The Premier League, EFL and PFA agreed that difficult decisions will have to be taken in order to mitigate the economic impact of the current suspension of professional football in England and agreed to work together to arrive at shared solutions.

The leagues will not recommence until April 30 at the earliest. They will only do so when it is safe and conditions allow.

Further meetings will take place next week with a view to formulating a joint plan to deal with the difficult circumstances facing the leagues, their clubs, players, staff and fans.

Southgate’s passionate plea to England: ‘We must work together’

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Gareth Southgate has once again struck the perfect chord in his attempt to rally the people of England and fans of his Three Lions during these uncertain times of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: Report: Donnarumma learning English ahead of PL move ]

Southgate wrote an open letter, released by the English FA, calling on everyone to work together to conquer “what is clearly the most extreme test we’ve faced collectively in decades.” He also spoke of his excitement and pride to once again again represent England at the rescheduled European Championship — excerpts from Southgate’s letter which can be read in full here:

“For everyone in our country, the primary focus of the present — and the coming months — is undoubtedly to look after our families, support our communities and work together to come through what is clearly the most extreme test we’ve faced collectively in decades.

“In the way you’ve all come together to support our team, we must now work together to combat a virus that is causing physical and emotional issues to so many. So, please continue to follow the guidelines for hygiene and also the sensible precautions put in place to control the spread of the virus in order to protect those most vulnerable to its impact. That responsibility lies with us all.

“We are also conscious of the economic uncertainty affecting so many businesses and, consequently, virtually every family. Coupled with the unique challenges of self-isolation, the loss of routine to normal working and social life, we face real challenges to our mental wellbeing. Our children may feel anxious with uncertainty. It’s not normal for any of us and it’s going to challenge us all.

“We were due to play next week and to represent you all this summer but now is clearly not the moment for us to take centre stage. The heroes will be the men and women who continue working tirelessly in our hospitals and medical centers to look after our friends and families. They won’t receive the individual acclaim but we all know their importance is beyond anything we do on the pitch.”

“When we play again as an England team, it will be at a time when not only our country but the rest of the world as well is on the road to recovery. Hopefully we will be closer to each other than ever and ready for the beautiful distraction that football can bring.

“To play in a European Championship next summer will still be possible for all of our squad and so we shouldn’t spend another moment thinking about the postponement of the competition. I feel sure when that moment comes I will never have been prouder to be the leader.”

2019-20 Premier League Best XI so far

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With the coronavirus shutdown of all major European soccer, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize the players who have stood out to this point as the table begins to truly take shape. Liverpool is just a hair away from securing the 2019/20 title, but not everything is about the Reds – although a lot of it still is.

[ MORE: Possible end dates | PST roundtable ]

With that in mind, here’s the frontrunners at each position for Premier League Team of the Season, with the players who could also make a leap into the conversation with a strong finish to the campaign, if they ever get the chance.

Premier League Best XI

Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Also considered: Alisson Becker

Harsh on Alisson, who is leading the way for one of the best back lines in Premier League history, but Dean Henderson has been just as brilliant in far more difficult circumstances. The Manchester United loanee has starred at Sheffield United, prompting talk that the Red Devils should cut his loan short and instill the 23-year-old’s loan short and bring him on to take over for a struggling David De Gea. While many have labeled the shot-stopper “England’s future number one,” it’s entirely possible that Henderson would have been the starter had Euro 2020 not been postponed until next season, and it’s certainly fathomable that the youngster could still be first-choice once the tournament arrives. There are recent rumors among English tabloids that Manchester United is preparing a new contract for Henderson worth nearly $120,000 a week, which would be more than backup goalkeeper Sergio Romero currently makes and about equal with new midfielder Bruno Fernandes.

Ederson is normally considered part of this list as well, but he just hasn’t performed up to the level required this season considering how he sparkled in Manchester City’s title campaign last time around.

Left-back: Andrew Robertson
Also considered: Ben Chilwell, Lucas Digne, Jonny

While Robertson doesn’t burst off the page like his fellow full-back teammate Alexander-Arnold (more on that in a moment), he is still far and away the best left-back in the league. The former Hull City man who joined Liverpool for just $9 million back in 2017 has flourished into one of the world’s best, and his chemistry with Alexander-Arnold is growing the two into a legendary pairing. He is a long-ball master, delivering 2.4 per game, the most of any left-back in the league and third among full-backs to just Kyle Walker and Alexander-Arnold.

Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Also considered: Ricardo Pereira, Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Did you know the Premier League was absolutely stacked at right-back? If not for Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is quickly establishing himself as the best full-back in the world and has a shot at a place among the greatest of all-time should he maintain this form for a number of years, the likes of Ricardo Pereira and Aaron Wan-Bissaka would actually have a legitimate shot at this award. Pereira’s performance this season has been so good he’s earned himself links to Real Madrid, and both he and Wan-Bissaka are tackle masters who are blowing away the rest of the league in that category (both are the only men not named Wilfried Ndidi to average over 4 successful tackles per match). Throw in Kyle Walker and wing-back Matt Doherty, and the ranks of Premier League right-backs are loaded. Too bad TAA trumps them all, with a gargantuan 12 assists this season and 2.6 key passes per game, more than double the total of any other right-back.

Center-Back: Virgil Van Dijk, Harry Maguire
Also considered: Caglar Soyuncu, Wily Boly, James Tarkowski

Selecting one of these players is a no-brainer. Virgil van Dijk is far and away the best center-back in the Premier League, and maybe the world. Selecting his partner is far more difficult.

WhoScored’s second-highest rated player at the position this season is Wily Boly, but like Scott McTominay, thanks to injuries he has not played enough this season to qualify. Caglar Soyuncu is another popular choice, and the youngster no doubt has been a pleasant surprise next to Jonny Evans at Leicester City, one of the league’s rising stars at the position. But Harry Maguire lived up to his price tag this season and that’s no small feat as the world’s most expensive defender. His positioning is exquisite, and while he hasn’t displayed van Dijk levels of domination – a slight slip in form through the months of October and November prove that – he has done fabulously at Manchester United, racking up a complete 2,610-minute Premier League season to this point and playing significant minutes through the other Cup competitions as well while the Red Devils struggle with injuries all over the pitch.

Defensive Midfield: Wilfred Ndidi
Also considered: Scott McTominay, Declan Rice, Jorginho

Wilfred Ndidi is a midfield destroyer the likes of which we haven’t seen since…well, since N’Golo Kante did it first at Leicester City just a few short years ago. But that doesn’t take away from the otherworldly performance that Ndidi has put forth this season, given that Kante earned himself Ballon d’Or nominations for his performance in Leicester City’s title-winning season. See this from November:

Ndidi is completing 4.4 successful tackles a game, only second to Crystal Palace’s James McCarthy who has only appeared in 12 games this season. He is doing so in a vicious pressing system that centrals around the Nigerian’s ability to cover an insane amount of ground, easing the pressing load on the other players as to not tire them out. Need an idea how important Ndidi is to the team? Of the five matches he missed in 2020 due to a knee injury, Leicester City won exactly zero of them, with three losses and two draws. He’s so important to the squad that Pep Guardiola game-planned for him successfully.

Scott McTominay has been a revelation this season, taking the next step into one of the league’s best defensive midfielders, but he missed too many games due to injury. Declan Rice continues to push forward as one of West Ham’s best assets, but has been unable to assert the same table-climbing effect on his side that Ndidi exerts on Leicester City.

Central Midfield: Jordan Henderson, Kevin De Bruyne
Also considered: Joao Moutinho, John Fleck

Kevin de Bruyne is everyone’s first choice on this squad. Leading the league 17 assists and producing scintillating displays nearly every week. The Belgian has displayed positional flexibility, often best sitting behind the striker in an attacking midfield role but also moving back into central midfield to receive the ball deeper or shifting out wide to make use of his crossing technique. De Bruyne will likely battle with van Dijk for Player of the Season should the awards eventually end up given out.

On the other end, Jordan Henderson is a perfect foil for de Bruyne. The Liverpool captain has been gargantuan this season, moving from cult hero to widespread household name. Henderson is a lynchpin of the highest order, calming the side and bringing structure to the buildup while helping defensively when Liverpool is hit on the counter.

The others considered from this position deserve to be mentioned. Joao Moutinho, along with midfield partner Ruben Neves, has turned the Wolves midfield into a dominant force no matter who they play. While they don’t necessarily hold the ball for endless spells of possession, they have been vicious when moving forward and relentless when shielding the back line. John Fleck, meanwhile, has been the other Sheffield United standout this season alongside Henderson, and his performance this season must be mentioned given where the Blades sit in the table.

Attacking Midfield: Jack Grealish
Also considered: James Maddison, Mason Mount

As far as players who are the most important to their team, Jack Grealish is unquestionably tops of that list. The Aston Villa midfielder has produced spectacular performance after spectacular performance this season, often the best player on the field despite Villa’s overall struggles. With his current club potentially going down should the season be concluded, Grealish is being linked with teams scattered across the top of the Premier League table and rightly so. At just 24 years old, Grealish has grown into a flourishing attacker who excels at taking players on and creating chances out of nothing.

Mason Mount has been fabulous for Chelsea this season, but injuries have hampered his campaign. The Blues should nonetheless be encouraged about the bright future of their young star. James Maddison has been equally fantastic for Leicester City in a similar role with freedom around the pitch, but he doesn’t quite carry his team like Grealish does. The youth on this list should be encouraging for the long-term health of attacking systems in the English top flight.

Forward: Sadio Mane, Jamie Vardy
Also considered: Sergio Aguero, Mohamed Salah, Adama Traore

Absolutely the most difficult choice of any position here, some high-profile players have missed out on a place in the team, but there’s just no way to leave out the two men at this spot. Jamie Vardy leads the league in goals, and while things have dried up somewhat until his brace against Aston Villa last time out, his goal conversion rate is still at historic levels. The dry spell has lowered his xG that at one point sat above the +6 mark, but he still has converted chances at a +4.76 rate this season, bagging 19 goals on a 14.24 xG mark. While Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah have also been prolific goalscorers, they just haven’t finished at the absurd rate that Jamie Vardy has produced.

Those two also just don’t equate to the importance that Sadio Mane presents to Liverpool. The presence of Gabriel Jesus means that Sergio Aguero could be missed and Manchester City hardly misses a beat, and while that shouldn’t take away from what the Argentine means to the heartbeat of that squad, it just doesn’t stack up to Mane’s vital presence at Liverpool. Adama Traore has burst onto the scene the second half of the campaign, injecting life into an occasionally stagnant Wolves attack and earning himself a place on this list, but he still struggles with consistency and doesn’t quite equate to the massive stature of the Liverpool winger.

How are players staying fit amid coronavirus outbreak?

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MADRID — Standing in his living room with family photos in the background, the fitness trainer for Spanish soccer club Leganes started the day’s online session.

[ MORE: Mini-tournament for Champions League, Europa League? ]

Using an elastic band, a couple of large water bottles as weight and a chair, Pol Lorente began demonstrating the exercises players had to do back home while in a lockdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak in Spain.

Monday’s live session was transmitted online through the Twitch app, and the club opened the feed to anyone who wanted to participate.

“The idea was to work a bit with the players, and since the state of emergency was declared, the club thought it would be good to open the session for everyone else who wanted to follow it,” said Lorente, using a Leganes training uniform and wearing glasses that perfectly fit the “harrypottercdleganes” username in which the online session was streamed.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos posted a video of himself training at his home gym with his three kids playing by his side, while Barcelona showed goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen jumping ropes and doing other exercises in the backyard.

Spain entered a lockdown on Saturday, with the government limiting people’s movements across the nation to try to contain the rapid spread of the virus that has infected more than 169,000 people and caused 6,500 deaths worldwide.

The outbreak prompted the suspension of sporting events around the world, and forced athletes to find ways to stay fit. Quarantined countries like Spain were the most affected ones, and teams have taken steps to keep players active while stranded at home.

[ MORE: National League joins rest of world in (belatedly) suspending play ]

Barcelona, leading the Spanish league and still in the Champions League, said it prepared individualized training guidelines for its players and was monitoring them remotely.

“The coaches will be in constant contact with the players to supervise and monitor sessions,” the club said. “At the moment, these training programs are scheduled for the next seven days and will be renewed until a return to group training.”

Barcelona said players will have to continue to “follow the nutritional guidelines they have already maintained throughout the season,” and each player “has been following an individual plan.”

“It is an exceptional moment and we have to follow all the recommendations from the health authorities and public authorities,” Lionel Messi said in a message posted on his Instagram account. “That is the only way that we can fight it effectively. It is time to be responsible and stay at home.

“Let’s hope we can turn this situation around, the quicker the better.”

The Spanish soccer federation had said before the lockdown that teams should stop any group activities. Some players and team members of first-division teams have been among those infected by the virus, including Valencia defender Ezequiel Garay.

The entire Real Madrid squad entered self-isolation last week after a player from the club’s basketball team, which shared training facilities with the soccer squad, tested positive.

[ MORE: Gremio players protest, walk onto the field with face masks ]

Leganes, a small team based in southern Madrid, suspended its training sessions last week after the club’s general director tested positive.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

In England, Premier League team Chelsea was among those in quarantine after winger Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive last week. The club posted a video of its striker, Tammy Abraham, exercising on a stationary bicycle, apparently at home.

Not every Chelsea player got the memo, though. Mason Mount was pictured on Sunday in north London playing soccer with friends, including Declan Rice, a midfielder for West Ham — a Premier League team that isn’t in lockdown. Chelsea reprimanded Mount and also took the opportunity to remind the rest of the squad about its responsibilities.

Other clubs in England were training according to their normal schedule, while waiting for more announcements from the league and the British government. Manchester United put some restrictions at its training ground, though, particularly around first-team areas.