Sheffield United showing defence is the best form of attack
Background Image Via: Wikimedia Commons/Bill Boaden. CC BY-SA 2.0.
When Sheffield United finished as runners-up in the 2018/19 Championship season, earning promotion in the process, I think it's fair to say The Blades were amongst frontrunners to be relegated from the Premier League at the first time of asking. After all, 2019/20 would be just their second top-flight campaign since the turn of the century.
In the grand scheme of things, Sheffield United's £40million total summer spend didn't really excite. Oliver McBurnie and Lys Mousset would be the major acquisitions. Little did we know it's the players who were already at Bramall Lane who'd propel Chris Wilder's team to fifth in the table. This is no fluke as we're almost at the halfway point. European football in the Steel City is a real possibility right now.
So what's behind the success? Well first and foremost, Sheffield United have been a constant threat in front of goal. They'll always carve out decent openings and more often than not, they're scoring week-in-week-out. That's not the main reason, mind. You look at their backline. Eighteen games have been played, only sixteen goals have been conceded; the second-fewest in the division.
With respect, it isn't like Sheffield United have a defence stacked with household names. Instead, they're doing it by committee. Wilder has found a formula that's tailor-made for the players the boyhood Blades fan at his disposal and it's working. Sheffield United have stepped up when it matters most. A high-powered Liverpool team only scored once, as did Tottenham Hotspur. They've kept seven clean sheets including keeping Arsenal quiet. Simply put, they're within striking distance every single time they take to the field. When you're that close, you've always got a punchers chance.
We have to start with goalkeeper Dean Henderson. After becoming a cult hero during his loan spell in the Steel City last term, the budding shot-stopper returned to Sheffield for a second campaign. Although I never thought it possible, the 22-year-old has gotten even better this time around. Henderson commands his penalty area, isn't afraid to baulk orders at his players and is an excellent goalie in the one-on-one situations. When you factor in his sublime saving abilities, this young man has the potential to go an awfully long way in this game. I guess the only problem is that United will definitely want him back next term...
Now onto the back three (or five, whichever you prefer). John Egan, Jack O'Connell and Chris Basham have just been brilliant, haven't they? They're helped by the fact that there is three centre-halves on the field as opposed to the more typical two, but they've barely put a foot wrong all season. Sprinkle in some Phil Jagielka, add yourself some Enda Stevens into the mix and let John Lundstram do what he does best in an offensive capacity and you've got a seriously underrated, compact unit.
The best part about it is that these guys are always available. Wilder has a reliable crop of defenders who are ready to go come kick-off time every weekend. In doing so, it allows each and every one of them to become more accustomed to the system and build a relationship with the rest of the starting line-up. Touch wood, of course, but they all deserve credit for getting themselves out on the field week-in-week-out.
Every year, there's a surprise team like this. It's Sheffield United's time in 2019/20. Now, it's about kicking on from here and seeing just how high they can fly. They can go toe-to-toe with the best of them and I certainly wouldn't bet against The Blades hosting Europa League games come the start of the 2020/21 term...