Mission Impossible? Five issues for Chris Wilder as he returns to Sheffield United

Prince Abdullah, the Blades' Saudi Arabian owner, remains optimistic the club can stave off relegation from the Premier League

New Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder, who takes on Liverpool on Wednesday night in his first game in charge. PA
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After the relentless misery of their first four months back in the Premier League, Sheffield United supporters finally had something to cheer on Tuesday as they celebrated the return of Chris Wilder to the Bramall Lane dugout.

Like all great relationships, Wilder's first spell in charge had a fast start, a long and rewarding middle, and a tumultuous ending.

Yet, however dark those final months were, they cannot tarnish his achievements in dragging the club from League One anonymity to the heights of a top-half finish in the 2020/21 Premier League. Such was the quality of his work, he received the LMA Manager of the Year award from his peers.

All that said, survival in 2023/24 would arguably be his greatest achievement, such is the desperate state of affairs right now. The club's Saudi Arabian owner, Prince Abdullah, says Wilder is the only man for the job and hinted at an increased transfer budget in January.

With or without Wilder, or fresh investment in the team, staying up seems a fanciful notion for the rock-bottom Blades, but here are five things that could help the 56-year-old add another glorious chapter to his history with the club.

Make the most of Bramall Lane

Over the years, Bramall Lane has earned a reputation as an intimidating ground for visiting teams. The home fans can be a pugnacious bunch, and the result is an aggressive, snarling atmosphere.

Eliciting that "us against the world" mentality is key to any rescue mission and Wilder's arrival will have the Blades supporters fizzing into the ground for Wednesday night's game against Liverpool. There is no love lost between Wilder and Jurgen Klopp from their previous skirmishes and having the Reds up first is something of a free hit.

Wilder will hope the emotion of the occasion will at least carry his side to a spirited performance. The challenge will be lifting a downtrodden squad and support on a regular basis and making the most of the advantages they enjoy on home turf.

Nottingham Forest, Burnley, Fulham, Luton and Brentford are among the sides still to visit Yorkshire, so opportunities to pick up points lie ahead.

Adopt a pragmatic style and be hard to beat

The Blades have conceded 39 times in 14 games, an average of 2.78 per game. It will come as little surprise that they own the worst defensive record in the league. They are easy to play against, easy to score against and are one of the softest Premier League sides in recent memory.

A change in style to something more compact, physical and direct could be the best option, or at least the best way to stay in games and give themselves a chance of getting results. Earlier in the season they gave Manchester City a run for their money with a really aggressive approach that had the treble winners rattled for a time. In terms of style, Wilder could do worse than to think of something really ugly – and then opt for something even uglier.

Back three or Wilder 2.0?

Wilder made his name with the Blades using a 3-5-2 formation with his famous overlapping centre-backs, where the players on the left or right of the defensive base would regularly romp forwards and help create overloads. Under his predecessor, Paul Heckingbottom, the Blades have been getting beaten week in and week out while lining up with a back three.

Wilder will have to quickly assess what he has at his disposal and decide whether to stick with his tried and tested system or conclude that it's a group better suited to a different shape.

Get the best out of Gus Hamer and Cameron Archer

In Hamer and Archer, the Blades have two exciting attacking players capable of making the grade at Premier League level. Archer has a penchant for spectacular goals but a return of two in 12 appearances can be improved upon. Attacking midfielder Hamer was arguably the best player in the Championship last season as he thrived in the slipstream of striker Viktor Gyokeres in a Coventry side beaten by Luton in the play-off final.

Unleashing his creative powers and unlocking Archer's obvious potential could yet transform the Blades' blunt attacking unit. At Burnley, the two were deployed off focal point Ollie McBurnie, but the experiment never got going as the Clarets scored early and McBurnie was sent off before half-time for two dangerous elbows. Using one or both off an effective target man – McBurnie or someone else – could yet reap dividends for Wilder.

Convince Prince Abdullah to invest more in the squad

Sheffield United's Saudi owner on Tuesday, in an interview with UK radio station Talksport, suggested he would hand Wilder funds in January with the important caveat: "We will see where the team is." A positive start for Wilder could see him rewarded with some much-needed reinforcements. They lost Sander Berge to Burnley and Iliman Ndiaye to Marseille last summer, while key loan player Tommy Doyle completed a permanent move to Wolves.

While any team would miss the audacious gifts of Ndiaye, the tactically astute Berge has arguably been a greater loss. The Norwegian offered protection to the defence and his ability on the ball both helped retain possession and start attacks.

With due respect to club stalwarts, and previous Wilder favourites, John Fleck and Ollie Norwood, both 32, some fresh blood in midfield wouldn't go amiss. At the back, Auston Trusty has struggled of late – he is by no means alone – so an upgrade at centre-half couldn't hurt. Up front, they have a focal point in McBurnie, when he can stay on the pitch, but another striker would surely be a priority given the chronic lack of goals so far this season.

Updated: December 06, 2023, 6:07 AM