Ashlee Kiddell takes a look at where it’s all gone wrong for Sheffield United
Sheffield United have started the 2020/21 Premier League campaign with just a single point, which came in a 1-1 draw at home to newly-promoted Fulham. Even then, they had to rescue the point with a Billy Sharp penalty in the 85th minute after Fulham dominated much of the second half. The Blades have been lackluster and things are looking bleak for Chris Wilder’s men.
The South Yorkshire club have lost every game since facing the Cottagers in mid-October but have played the likes of Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, and Leicester as well as a difficult home game against in-form West Ham. Apart from the 4-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and their 0-2 defeat at home to Wolves on the opening day of the season, the Blades have only lost by a one-goal margin this season (8 out 10 defeats).
The main issue for Sheffield United this season is that they’ve only scored five goals in the league, joint bottom with Burnley. Summer signing Rhian Brewster is yet to score this year in seven appearances after swapping Anfield for Bramall Lane in a deal costing £23.5 million. With Lys Mousset injured and his only appearance coming in a 17-minute cameo away at West Brom this season, the blades have mainly used Oli McBurnie, David McGoldrick, and Oliver Burke as their striking options. This clear lack of pace up top has been one of the key reasons why Sheffield United have not performed.
Sheffield United have only scored two goals at Bramall Lane this year, both from dead-ball situations. Oli McBurnie finally got on the goal-scoring charts this season after he scored a leaping header at home to Leicester last Sunday. You could feel the sense of relief for the Scot and if you’re a Blades fan, you’ll be hoping this is the confidence boost he needs. McBurnie has had some good chances this year but has not been able to convert with him having expected goals of 3.51 and only having 1 goal to show for it. United have not been clinical enough this year and questions must be raised over the quality of their forwards. Sure, Brewster, McBurnie, and Sharp have got goals in the Championship, but they are a quality below what is required for the Premier League.
In their 1-0 defeat at the Hawthorns, Wilder’s men were able to have 22 shots over the course of the game and had an expected-goals total of 3.25; their strike force were unable to grab a goal. With the lack of pace in the team, especially up front, Sheffield United are one dimensional up top and with them having the lowest possession in the league with an average of 41.2% per game, they do not have the quality nor the speed to hit on the counter-attack. This would explain why they have the second-lowest shots per game in the Premier League with nine.
It was evident in their 1-2 home defeat to Leicester on Sunday. Leicester squeezed high up the pitch and were able to win the ball back quickly; the Foxes had 70% possession of the ball. They were by far the better side on Sunday and if it wasn’t for the woodwork, they could have been a couple up by half-time. With the Blades being forced to play on the counter-attack, McBurnie and Burke were limited for chances. However, blame cannot be solely placed on the forward line. United only had a 67% pass completion in the game and the quality of service for the strikers was not good enough.
Perhaps the impact of Covid has had the biggest consequence on the Blades due to the inability of having fans back in the stadium. Last season, they played a pivotal role at Bramall Lane which helped in United only conceding 15 goals last year at home. The whole club is clearly suffering from a lack of confidence right now with fans been as far away from the club than ever and results on the pitch being very disappointing. Before Project Restart, United were 7th in the table with 43 points after 28 games and were only able to pick up three more wins after the restart in 10 games.
You’ve got to feel sorry for Chris Wilder, of course, every team has been without fans, but the impact has hit Sheffield United hard. Coupled with that, they have suffered key injuries to their spine this season with Jack O’Connell, John Fleck and Lys Mousset being out for the majority of the season. With Dean Henderson returning to Old Trafford too, the Blades have missed their star keeper and despite Aaron Ramsdale being a good replacement, perhaps Henderson could have saved them a few more points if he wore the gloves at Bramall Lane this year. Let’s also bear in mind the small margins in which they have lost this season, maybe a change in luck is all they need and if fans are eventually allowed back in South Yorkshire, they may be able to offer that extra boost they need.
Attention turns to the upcoming January transfer window with Wilder saying that the club must act now and start preparing and completing deals in order for them to be added to his side straight away at the turn of the year. However, the Sheffield-born manager has said that no permanent transfers will be coming in with only loan deals seen as viable. All is not lost for Sheffield United and if they are able to strengthen recruits in January, get a bit more luck and build some confidence then there is no reason why they are not able to get out of the bottom three or at least give a good fight at staying up. They need to start picking up points though and fast.
Written by Ashlee Kiddell (@Ashlee_Kiddell)