Sheffield United have started the 2020-21 Premier League campaign in the most abysmal fashion, accruing two points from their first 14 games. No team has managed to avoid the drop after such a terrible start, and things don’t look good for Chris Wilder’s men. But where did it all go so horribly wrong? The Yorkshire club barely resemble the side that finished in ninth place last time out with 54 points.
Great Return to Top Flight
In the 2019-20 season, United were one of the surprise packages. After having been promoted from the Championship the previous year, they carried on their exceptional form in the top flight. Wilder’s side became known for their defensive rigidity, and only conceded 39 goals in 38 games. This gave them the fourth-tightest defense in the division.
Wilder was named as the runner-up for the LMA Manager of the Year award last term, and lost out on the prize to league winner Jürgen Klopp. The 53-year old was recognized for his achievement in the Blades’ league finish, but also because he pioneered some interesting and unique tactics that were admired by his peers. For instance, Wilder became known for using overlapping center backs as well as his well-planned set pieces.
Abysmal Start to the 2020-21 Campaign
Unfortunately, the momentum that United gathered last time out hasn’t continued this term and they have had an awful start to the season. Their only two points in the first 14 matches came against Fulham, who are also prime contenders for the drop. They have suffered losses to newly-promoted sides Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion, and have seemed bereft of ideas in almost every single game.
The Blades have broken a record for the worst start to a top-flight season in the history of English football after 14 games. Sunderland had a similarly tough time in the 2005-06 season, when they managed a mere five points from the first 15. In 2007-08, Derby County earned six points from their first 15 matches and went on to get a total of 11 for the campaign – this is the worst points tally ever recorded by an English top-flight side.
Things certainly aren’t looking good for United if history is anything to go by. But why have they begun in such a dire manner? It could be the famous second season syndrome, where a club suddenly burns out after having over-performed. The Blades have been steadily rising up the ranks for a few years, and it could all be catching up with them now.
There are a few other reasons that they are faltering as well. Billy Sharp was an excellent asset for the Blades in the Championship, but at 34 years old, the club legend can’t quite cut it in the top flight. Wilder failed to sign a striker of the same mold who can play well in his system. It now seems strikingly clear that the lack of experienced firepower in front of goal is coming back to bite Sheffield. Unfortunately, Rhian Brewster doesn’t quite seem ready to compete at this level.
Odds Are Against Them
At the time of writing, United are dead certs to be relegated at the end of the season. In fact, bookies are unlikely to change their stance on this unless there is a miracle, because no team has ever managed to stay up after enduring such a poor start to a campaign. The odds look bleak, and the likes of 22bet have United to go down at 1/6, happening the same on different sites. Bettors could find fruitful returns if they stake a sign-up bonus on the Blades to stay up and they somehow manage it. However, many would see this as an unwise decision.
If Sheffield do avoid the drop, it will be the greatest of great escapes, and once again Wilder will be seen as one of the best managers in the business. With two-thirds of the season still left to play, there is a slim chance that it could happen.
Sheffield are having a serious case of second season syndrome, and no team in recent memory has been in such a dismal scenario after the same number of games played. If United manage to pull off a miraculous recovery, it will go down in history as one of the best battles against relegation ever seen.
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