Sheffield United face a massive game against Fulham next weekend in a fixture some fans are already dubbing a ‘must-win’ encounter at The Lane.
To think we are already using that sort of terminology just four games in is quite worrying in itself. But, that is the stark and blunt situation we find ourselves in after four losses from four this season.
Fulham will also come to Sheffield in the same boat. They’ll be desperate for a first win themselves and will come bolstered with a few new signings from deadline day, including Chelsea and England man, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
So in such a big game so early in the season, Blades boss Chris Wilder has a few big selection decisions to make. Rhian Brewster is in the building and could start, Oliver Burke has a knock from Scotland duty, while the midfield has lacked any sort of creativity of late. Add to that we’ve yet to bring anyone in for Jack O’Connell, and Wilder has big calls on his hands.
One of the key areas that needs addressing from the last two performances is the midfield three. Wilder has opted with Sander Berge deeper, with John Lundstram and Ben Osborn flanking him. That’s meant no place for Oliver Norwood and John Fleck, two regulars during the rise under Wilder.
And it’s the left-hand side which Wilder needs to change for the Fulham game. Despite Osborn’s 110% attitude and commitment to the cause, there is no denying that the Blades miss the creativity and drive of Fleck from midfield.
A quick look back to last season, where Fleck scored five and assisted a further two, shows how important he can be on the most basic level. But the Scot is so much more than that when he is on song.
Most Blades fans would concur that, on his day, John Fleck is our best player. Certainly in an attacking sense, he’s our driving force from midfield.
We are missing it massively. Yes, he wasn’t on song in the opening two games and it does appear he is carrying a knock. But we are being nullified out wide, something we were so good at last season, meaning we need that bit extra from the middle.
With Fleck, you only have to look at displays last season against Man U, Arsenal, and Burnley, to see how good he can be. Weirdly, United lost just one of the eight games the Scot didn’t feature in last season. But beyond that, it’s so clear we need him in the midfield.
If United are to push on in the coming weeks, we need our best players in their stride and performing. Unless he is injured, John Fleck has to be the first name on the team-sheet.