It was the summer of 2016 when Chris Wilder got appointed as the new manager of his boyhood club replacing Nigel Adkins. Sheffield United were stuck in the third tier of the English pyramid for quite some time and the expectations were sky-high upon Wilder’s return to Bramall Lane following his stupendous stint with Northampton Town. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Not only the Blades finished first a year later to grab promotion but also secured Premier League football within the next couple of campaigns. They defied the odds once more by earning a 9th-placed league finish and narrowly missed out on a place in Europe failing to maintain the momentum after ‘Project Restart’. From being favourites to get relegated by the end of the season to claiming a slot in the top half of the league table – the players indeed punched above their weight to pull off a miracle under Wilder.
Although it’s too early to judge or conclude anything after four gameweeks, Sheffield United have reasons to be worried in the upcoming weeks. The ‘second season syndrome’ has hit many after an impressive maiden top-flight campaign and the Blades must grab a few results before it gets too late. All the other outfits have strengthened significantly to raise their standard, but the Yorkshire giants seem to be in deep trouble as their odds to be relegated have dropped sharply, going from 7/2 to 13/8 in the span of a month.
They have lost all four of their league encounters and are currently 19th in the standings ahead of bottom-placed Fulham on goal difference. Wilder’s men have found the net only once so far, that too last weekend against Arsenal when David McGoldrick pulled one back as consolation. Despite not being a high-scoring side last term (they fired in only 39 times, least among the top 12 outfits), Sheffield were rock solid defensively as they conceded an identical 39 goals (fourth-best record in the league after Liverpool and the Manchester clubs) and managed to grind out results in close contests week in, week out.
With little firepower high up the pitch, they relied on a resilient ‘back five’ to defend deep and hit back on the counter with their physicality, long balls and pinpoint crosses using the width of the pitch. The team chemistry was exquisite with unpredictable moves, sudden transitions and smart link-up play to stun the opponents against the run.
Things, however, have been alarming this term with the defence leaking goals and leaving space far too open. They are committing early, lacking concentration while dealing with crosses as well as set-pieces and are often getting caught out of position dangerously. Moreover, the Blades are being wasteful in the attacking third and the decision of roping in Oliver Burke from West Brom makes no sense either. The once highly-rated Scotsman has lost his mojo since leaving for Leipzig and in spite of the high work ethics, has offered little in terms of creativity.
Having said that, the problem has been addressed by Wilder with a big-money move for Rhian Brewster. The former Liverpool starlet enjoyed a productive loan spell at Swansea City and is now keen on experiencing regular minutes at the highest level to fulfil his potential. The ongoing international break would help them rectify the shortcomings and start afresh to avoid a downfall by the end of the 2020-21 season.