Can Sheffield United finish in the Premier League top four?
Background photo: Bill Boaden, CC-BY-SA 2.0.
If the previous campaign still isn’t considered distant memory for you, it’s because you haven’t analysed Sheffield United. In 2018/19, the questions being asked of the Blades bordered on whether they could finally end their 12-year exile from top-flight football. They certainly did, in emphatic fashion. Today, we’re asking some bigger questions of Chris Wilder’s men.
Long walk to the top
For Sheffield United, it been a long and excruciating walk back to the top tier of the English game. Sandwiched between that period was a disheartening collapse from playing Premier League football in 2007 to spending four seasons in League One – between 2007 and 2011.
Financial problems have largely worked against the Blades. Just at the darkest hour, they were finally saved from administration by a Saudi Prince who bought 50% stake of the club in 2013. Though the Prince got the lion share of United for a cut-price [£1], everyone anticipated happy days, when money would no longer limit the Blades from shinning. Those times aren’t fully here yet, but Sheffield United is a lot better situation than what they used to be.
The football world is stacked with possibilities. Sheffield United may well have put that rhetoric into perspective this season. The Blades are beyond securing their Premier League status for next term, Wilder’s charges are gearing towards finishing in the European places. Perhaps even among the top four.
A glance at Sheffield United’s League position explains why there’s so much anticipation at Bramall Lane. With 39 points, the Blades lie fifth, just two points from that heavily contested fourth position. Even if Sheffield United can finish where they are, they’d have broken their personal record and earned their right to play in Europe next season.
"I'm looking at the fixtures coming up. There are some kind fixtures for them."
A remarkable period for Sheffield United. The Blades are pushing for the top four! 🤯 https://t.co/T2HcqGX90q
A fourth-placed finish isn’t too much to ask of a newly-promoted team. In the 1992/93 season, Blackburn stunned the topflight by finishing fourth. And just when we thought we couldn’t see any better from a team from the lower tier, Newcastle United ended the 1993/94 campaign in third. Then Nottingham Forest matched the Magpies feat the following season.
What can we expect from Sheffield United?
Factors for and against
Resilience and a fighting spirit. Sheffield United has those two in abundance. It’s the propelling factor for United’s lofty position in the League this term. The stats make the point clearer. United have won an impressive 13 points from losing positions this campaign. Only Wolves have collected more. The Blades showed that fighting spirit again at the weekend by coming from a goal down to beat Bournemouth at the Lane.
It must be said that Wilder’s method is a bit conservative. But its effectiveness cannot be denied. The Blades have scored a miserly 28 goals this term. Which by the way is the least return for any side in the league's top half. But they’ve painstakingly garnered points by keeping the backdoor tightly shut. United's rear has been breached just 24 times this campaign. And that makes them the best defence in the division behind Liverpool. Staggering stats for a newly-promoted side.
So here’s the thing. Wilders men aren’t prolific. Albeit, they scarcely get beat up too. Score against them and you’re still unlikely to hand them a defeat. However, as the campaign enters its deep end, goals will begin to count for plenty. Teams are likely to become more difficult to score against. Particularly teams in the top six and the relegation-threatened. For a team like Sheffield who isn’t tallying many goals, they may start to lose valuable points.
With the firepower chasing that fourth position, it would be shocking if Sheffield United make the top four. Not the top six though. Whatever happens, these Blades have done enough.