Teams that are promoted to the Premier League are usually the favorites to go right back down. These sides often lack the money and personnel to compete with the established teams across the country. Clubs that fight their way up from the EFL Championship struggle to settle and stay afloat in the following Premier League season.
In the 2019-20 Premier League season, the three promoted teams were Norwich City, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United. Norwich had played some good football en route to winning the 2018-19 EFL Championship and were expected to do well along with Villa, who had splashed the cash on several new signings.
Sheffield United, however, had barely strengthened their squad and were expected to finish last. By the time the longest Premier League season in history had ended, Norwich had long been condemned to relegation while Villa survived by the skin of their teeth.
On the other hand, the Blades had exceeded the wildest expectations. Sheffield United finished 9th, only five points short of a Europa League place. Although the team lacked star players, they made up for it with their tactics, team effort, and coaching.
Manager Chris Wilder's unique strategies, which involved overlapping center-backs, took the league by storm. Sheffield United pressed as a group and won the ball back high up the pitch. You couldn't help but cheer for the gutsy underdog side and their performances earned widespread applause.
However, the 2020-21 Premier League season has seen the end of Sheffield United's unusually long honeymoon period. The team is at the bottom of the table with just one point from eight games. The sudden change in fortunes has fans and analysts wondering what has gone wrong for Chris Wilder's men.
The obvious answer is that they have been found out. Sheffield United's squad is built around a workman-like approach. The team suffers from the absence of players with the individual skill to create something out of nothing when the side is up against it.
With the surprise factor gone, Sheffield United have become much easier to play against. Thanks to modern technology, it is much easier to study teams, break down their tactics, and eventually counter them.
A major issue for the Blades this season is their inability to score goals. In the 2019-20 Premier League season, Sheffield United's strikeforce consisted of 34-year-old Billy Sharp, David McGoldrick, Oli McBurnie, and Lys Mousset. It didn't look like the most potent attack on paper but performed admirably, as the four players scored 17 goals between them.
Nonetheless, it was clear that attacking reinforcements were required. For context, despite their 9th place finish, only four teams scored fewer goals than Sheffield United in the 2019-20 Premier League season. The Blades' success was built on the back of their solid defense. Once teams began to unearth ways to get past the backline, it was expected that the forwards would have to step up.
It hasn't happened. Sheffield United have scored four goals in eight Premier League fixtures this season. The big-money signing of Rhian Brewster from Liverpool has not paid off yet.
The club also failed in the transfer window, with only Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu coming in to bolster the defense. Unfortunately, the team lost goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who returned to Manchester United.
The young keeper had two brilliant seasons at Bramall Lane and was one of the best shot-stoppers in the Premier League last year. Although Aaron Ramsdale was brought in from Bournemouth, the replacement keeper has struggled to match Henderson's performances.
Sheffield United can take comfort in the fact that it's still early days in the 2020-21 Premier League season. However, Chris Wilder's side need to rediscover last season's form soon or they could find themselves in massive trouble.Published 10 Nov 2020, 23:15 IST