The midway point of the season is upon us, the table is starting to take shape and the high-flyers are starting to separate themselves from the good-for-nothings.
Sheffield United very much fall into the former category as Chris Wilder and his side have enjoyed a successful start to the 2019/20 Premier League season.
One of this season’s newly promoted teams, the Blades have taken to life in England’s top flight like a duck to water and sit in seventh place at the halfway point, ahead of the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton.
As the second half of the season gets under way, Sheffield United will aim to replicate their impressive form and push for – dare to dream – a European place. With that said, here is 90min’s assessment of Sheffield’s wild season so far, with a hint of what’s to come.
At the midway point of the season, Sheffield United have amassed a total of seven wins, the same number as Manchester United, while only falling to four losses. For contrast, that is fewer than Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal, while only Liverpool (0) and Wolves (3) have recorded fewer losses.
To further typify Sheffield United’s defensive solidity, only Liverpool (14) have conceded fewer goals than Chris Wilder’s men (17).
One issue, however, is the attacking firepower that the Blades have at their disposal. United have scored the fewest goals in the top eight Premier League places, finding the net on a measly 23 occasions. Lys Mousset leads the scoring charts with five goals from five shots on target.
P19 W7 D8 L4 – Sheffield United’s record speaks for itself. The newly promoted side have enjoyed wins against notable sides such as Arsenal and Everton, while also enjoying draws against Chelsea (2-2), Tottenham (1-1) and Manchester United (3-3).
Sheffield United kicked off their domestic cup proceedings with a 2-1 home victory over Blackburn Rovers in the second round of the Carabao Cup, courtesy of goals from Richard Stearman and Oliver Norwood.
Following on from their second round triumph, the Blades faltered against League One opposition in the form of Sunderland in the third round of the competition. Max Power’s ninth minute goal was enough to see the visitors through – although Blades fans will point to no less than ten changes being the cause for their exit.
A third round FA Cup tie at home against A.F.C. Fylde may offer Chris Wilder some redemption with Jim Bentley’s side clear underdogs, residing 19th in the National League.
Without a doubt Sheffield United’s biggest strength so far this season has been their defensive resolve. The back three of Chris Basham, John Egan and Jack O’Connell have been stalwarts in the Blades defence and have been the focal point of United’s impressive season, conceding just 17 goals between them.
The team from south Yorkshire have only conceded two goals on four occasions in the league and have only lost two of those games (against Newcastle and Leicester) – and it is this foundation which has allowed Chris Wilder’s side to gain so many points this season.
As a matter of fact, there have been three or more goals in just five of Sheffield United’s 19 Premier League games this season and, whilst not conceding is half of the winning formula, Wilder may be slightly disappointed with his side’s goal return.
While Sheffield United are superb at keeping opposition scoring to a minimum, they are not so great at scoring at the other end.
As mentioned, 23 goals scored is the lowest number in the top eight places in the league and the rate must be upped if the Blades’ position is to be sustained throughout the second half of the season. Sheffield United’s biggest victory came in a 3-0 win over Burnley, only the second time the club had scored three in a game this season.
Lys Mousset is the Blades’ top goalscorer with five, while Oli McBurnie has three to his name and David McGoldrick is yet to score in the Premier League this season. It is clear what Chris Wilder needs to address in the January transfer window, which leads us nicely onto…
Areas to Address in January
Sheffield United fans may be left to rue what may have been if they had some serious firepower at the top end of the pitch, with a lack of goals the only real negative of the Blades season so far.
Chris Wilder has two options; keep the faith in Mousset and McBurnie (who both arrived in the summer) or dip into the transfer window to bring in some much needed competition for the second half of the season.
With Wilder himself admitting that he and the club are looking into reinforcements, it appears the search for striking firepower is already well under way.
Sheffield United’s best players have without a doubt been their industrious back three of Basham, O’Connell and Egan, while full-backs Enda Stevens and George Baldock have provided ample attacking threat down either flank.
Basham (43), Egan (24) and O’Connell (16) have made 83 tackles between them so far this season, and have amassed no less than 270 combined clearances and 92 interceptions. It is hard to find comparable numbers from any other Premier League back lines, and it is clear to see how effective the trio are at keeping other teams out.
Stevens and Baldock have five assists between them, which is impressive given United’s emphasis on defending, while midfielders John Lundstram and John Fleck have also contributed positively to the team going forward. Lundstram has scored three league goals so far this season, including a brace in their 3-0 victory over Burnley, while Fleck has contributed four goals at the half-way stage, including a goal and an assist in the 3-3 draw against Manchester United.
With the Blades just three points behind the Champions League places, there is real cause for optimism around Bramall Lane regarding a finish in the European spots.
If Wilder can continue to get the best out of his squad and avoid any calamitous injuries, Sheffield United may well head into the 2020/21 season as a Europa League club.
Premier League: 7th
FA Cup: Fourth Round
Sheffield United have asserted themselves as one of the Premier League’s most loved teams. The small, humble side from south Yorkshire have certainly won a place in most football fans hearts for playing attractive football their way, and by God they’re doing well.
If, and it’s a huge if, Sheffield can continue their impressive first half of the season, then Chris Wilder should have a statue of himself erected outside the Kop stand – and stuff it, give the man an OBE for his services.