SHEFFIELD UNITED: WHAT'S GONE WRONG FOR LAST SEASON'S SURPRISE ACT
Sheffield United caught the eye of just about everyone last season, as their inventive 3-5-2 system helped them to a comfortable top-half finish when many had predicted them to go down. Chris Wilder endeared himself and his team to the nation, with his honest, hardworking persona rubbing off on his team. Yet going into the international break, the Blades find themselves 19th with zero points and only a goal to their name.
So, what has gone wrong so far?
Lack of goals
Sheffield United were not the most prolific side last season, with 39 goals placing them joint fourth in terms of least goals scored. This has been punctuated even more, as United lost three out of four games this season by a single goal. The shot output has only gone down by five in comparison to their first four games last season, dropping from 38 to 33, but shots don’t mean good chances. And while it is early in the season, Sheffield United have only created three big chances so far and find themselves in 15th for that statistic, whereas last season they finished fifth, with a total of 60.
Sheffield United have operated with David McGoldrick up front alongside either Ollie McBurnie or Oliver Burke. While both offer plenty of work rate, none of those three options are proven prolific goal scorers in the Premier League and with Wilder’s uncertainty on Lys Mousset’s fitness, it looks like he will have to rely on them for the foreseeable future. Of course, club captain and overall Blades legend Billy Sharp is still at the club, but at 34, most of his minutes are coming from the bench and he is yet to make a goalscoring impact. The signing of Rhian Brewster could alleviate a lot of these problems, but we are yet to see whether the former Liverpool striker will thrive in the Premier League.
Some luck at the back
While for the first two games, Sheffield United were able to play their perceived strongest back three, which consists of Jack O’Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham, due to injuries and suspensions, the Blades have been without the first two named. O’Connell having been ruled out for the rest of the season. Jack Robinson has been filling the void at left centre, back but has arguably struggled to settle in, especially in the attacking side of things with his lack of progressive passing stifling Sheffield United at times. The Blades do have Ethan Ampadu available, but so far Wilder has preferred him to fill in the middle or the right, instead of the left side, which may leave them a little short of options to fill the void of O’Connell.
While Sheffield United have only conceded six goals this season, the three-man central defence is so important to how Wilder operates his team and with perhaps a lack of depth there this season, any more long term injuries could put a real spanner in the works.
Have they just been sussed out?
After a fantastic first season, Sheffield United may be suffering from a bit of ‘second season syndrome’, and that may be down to the lack of flexibility that Sheffield United have, considering they have played a 3-5-2 in every Premier League game since their promotion back into the top-flight. With the amount of analysis on hand to Premier League clubs, it may be that other teams are just starting to figure out ways to stop the Blades from creating chances, from their 3-5-2 shape and starting to find gaps to exploit.
Players get brought into Brammall Lane and must learn the system in a similar way to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side. This means players have to adjust to the tactics and sometimes in football that takes time, especially if players are arriving from completely different sides and have possibly had a lack of first-team football. While this does not apply to every player, we may not start seeing players at their best for the Blades until after they have bedded in and found their rhythm.
After four games, Sheffield United are not dead and buried. They have 34 more games to get to the magic 40-point total, which may be necessary considering the strength of the Premier League this year, where anyone can truly beat anyone. The question is, will Wilder stick with the system that has taken Sheffield United so far, or is it time for a tactical change at Bramall Lane?