It seems like an age ago that Jarrod, Serenity, and myself gave our pre-season predictions. For the most part, we were all on the same page. However, I was surprised neither of my fellow writers chose Sheffield United to go down. Was I the only one seeing the problems facing the Blades going into their sophomore premier league season? Well, I’m not the type of guy to say I told you so but… I GOD DAMN TOLD YOU SO!!! Sheffield United are getting relegated. Believe it.
The Blades were a revelation last season and for a time looked like they might even finish top six. Then COVID-19 hit, and upon the league returning, they were poor. A 0-0 draw preceded repeat 3-0 losses to Newcastle United and Manchester United, as the Blades ended up finishing ninth. They were the prototypical ‘hurt by not having fans’ club, and it will never be known how things could have ended had the season not stopped.
However, this season was always going to be a struggle for the Blades for several reasons. The first one is scoring goals. After finishing the season without scoring against Villa, Newcastle, and United, they started this season in similar form. Losses to Wolves, Villa, and Leeds all came without a goal, making it 540 minutes without a Premier League goal.
David McGoldrick finally got them on the board against Arsenal, but let’s face it, everyone scores against Arsenal. They still ended up losing 2-1 and didn’t get their first Premier League points of the season until their 1-1 draw with Fulham last Sunday.
Without goals that they didn’t have in abundance last season, their defense would be even more critical this season. They aren’t leaking goals at an alarming rate (the losses at Villa and Leeds were both 1-0), but they miss one crucial part of last season’s defense that was fourth-best in the league. Unfortunately for the Blades, that missing piece is proving to be vital. Dean Henderson.
The young English shot-stopper was on loan from Manchester United last season, and while not the only reason they had a fantastic defensive record was undoubtedly the main ingredient. He leaked .92 goals per 90 minutes played, and his Post-Shot Expected Goals minus Goals Allowed (PSxG+/-) was a +5.2. For those unaware, the PSxG+/- stat shows the ability to stop shots. Positive numbers suggest an above-average ability. So far this year, Aaron Ramsdale is -0.9. That is not just a drop but a significant one.
After ending their losing streak with a 1-1 draw against Fulham, there is hope the Blades could get back on track. The problem is their next three games are away to Liverpool, home to Manchester City, and away to Chelsea. There could be a case to make that if you have to play Liverpool, now is the time to do so with injuries to critical players Virgil Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
In the future, Liverpool is still a threat with Salah, Firmino, and Mané. The Blades will have to find a way to keep them quiet to stand any chance. Manchester City and Chelsea also haven’t looked fantastic, but the Cityzens have Sergio Aguero back, which is a huge boost, and indeed it’s only a matter of time until Chelsea’s squad of stars click.
Injuries to crucial defenders like Jack O’Connell won’t help Sheffield United’s cause either. The Blades averaged 1.52 points per match last season and were a +7 for goals scored versus goals allowed with O’Connell on the pitch. The defender needs an operation on his knee and is expected to miss the rest of the season. With a squad as small as Sheffield United’s, these injuries and losses could be the difference between survival or relegation. Unfortunately for the Blades, this season may see them do the latter. And when it happens, remember I TOLD YOU SO!!!