GREAT ESCAPE: WILL SHEFFIELD UNITED'S RESURGENCE BE ENOUGH TO AVOID THE DROP?
It was a shock for everyone when Sheffield United arrived in the Premier League last season, having last been in the English top-flight in 2007.
Wilder’s squad didn’t have the same European excitement of Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves side and most expected them to be fighting to remain in the division.
But while fellow newcomers Norwich ended the season rock-bottom, the Blades finished ninth and only five points away from the Europa League places.
However, the 2020/21 season didn’t quite begin as positively with United having to wait until January 12, for their first league win of the season, beating Newcastle United 1-0.
Since then, they’ve also beaten fellow strugglers West Brom as well as title contenders Manchester United at Old Trafford, but what has allowed them to recover their form and can they stay up?
Wilder has been consistent in his way of playing throughout his tenure in the Steel City, with overlapping centre-backs, attacking wingbacks and a dynamic midfield.
This came as a shock when they were first promoted, with even a manager of Pep Guardiola’s calibre astounded saying he “never saw the movements they (Sheffield United) are doing.”
It’s safe to say that a greater amount is now known of this system which allows managers to set up more effectively against this formation and limit the effects of the overlapping defenders.
It’s simple to say that the strikers have not been firing for Chris Wilder’s side this season, but they weren’t frequent scorers last season, so for their attacking threat to weaken would have a significant effect.
They have currently averaged 0.65 goals a game so far this season, down on last season’s 1.02. Therefore, if you can’t score goals, you cannot win a match.
This becomes more disappointing for the Blades having spent a club record fee of £23.5 million on ex-Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster who is yet to score in the Premier League.
It can be expected for Brewster to take time to adapt having only had his first significant minutes of first-team football last season on loan at Swansea.
But combined with the recent upturn of form has been the increase in goals being scored, with at least a goal scored in at least four of their last five Premier League games.
Despite this recent form Sheffield United sit at the foot of the table and eleven points adrift from safety and Sean Dyche’s Burnley, meaning it remains unlikely they’ll survive the drop.
The recent turn of form of Brighton, who have beaten both Tottenham and Liverpool to help them pull their way away from the relegation zone, accompanied by the Blades poor early form, means Wilder’s team have a mountain to climb.
One thing Wilder can tick off of his checklist is that the Blades have already managed to equal the record low points total of Derby County (11 points in 2007-08) with 15 games left.
It’s not impossible with plenty of examples of Premier League great escapes, Leicester City being the most recent example in 2014-15 season, where they stayed up with a game to spare.
After 29 games they were seven points from safety, a margin that the Blades could find themselves close to, with other examples of West Brom (2004-05) and Sunderland (2013-14).
However, Sheffield United have a different situation ahead of themselves with not only the likes of Brighton, Burnley and Newcastle to contend with but their fellow teams in the bottom three.
West Brom are led by serial relegation avoider Sam Allardyce, meaning the Baggies will not go down without a fight, shown in their impressive 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield.
Fulham as well have a squad capable of picking up points with valuable draws against Liverpool, Spurs and fellow strugglers West Brom to avoid a six-pointer loss.
The next task for Wilder’s side is an FA Cup fifth round game against an injury ridden Bristol City, with an opportunity to progress to the quarter final and one game away from Wembley.
Will the Blades push for cup success as their ambitions of Premier League survival become dreams? Or can Sheffield United complete what will be the one the league’s great escapes.