Would Sheffield United be in such a perilous position had Sander Berge managed to avoid missing a large chunk of the season through injury? Probably.
The Norway international is a fine midfielder but he couldn’t solve the Blades’ glaring profligacy alone or their tendency to make point-dropping defensive clangers.
But there’s no doubting Sheffield United’s hopes of improbable survival have been hindered by the absence of their 6ft 4in midfield powerhouse, arguably the most technically gifted footballer in Chris Wilder’s limited squad.
And, as the Blades boss himself admitted last week, relegation is likely to spell the end of Berge’s 18-month Sheffield United career.
“I know that day will come (when the £22 million record signing departs),” Wilder told TV2 of a man not seen since December after undergoing surgery.
“I know Sander won’t be here until he’s 32. If he goes, and if it happens, then it happens with our blessing.”
So if we assume Berge’s exit is a case of when rather than if, the next question is where?
Aston Villa were interested in the 2019 Jupiler League winner before his record-breaking move to Yorkshire 13 months ago and, according to Eurosport, Dean Smith’s side will be on the phone again this summer.
But can Berge aim higher than Villa Park? The Sheffield United faithful certainly seem to think so.
Then again, the 23-year-old is far from the finished article. And Aston Villa feels like the definition of a stable stepping stone, especially when you take into account Smith’s track record when it comes to turning promising youngsters into top-flight stars.
Liverpool and Manchester City can wait. For now, Berge needs a club where he can maintain his progression without the weight of crushing expectation on his shoulders.
Here’s how some Sheffield United fans reacted on Twitter to news of Aston Villa’s interest: