Sheffield United have made the joint worst start to a top-flight campaign since 2014 having taken just one point from their opening eight games.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at what has gone wrong for the Blades following their ninth placed finish last term.
While putting the Blades’ troubles down to ‘second-season syndrome’ is an easy thing to do, the beginning of their slide actually began at lockdown. Prior to the 2019/20 season being shut down by Covid-19, the Blades were challenging for a Champions League spot having taken the Premier League by storm on the back of two promotions in three years. The momentum that had carried them towards the top of the league was wiped out and although the Blades beat Tottenham, Wolves and Chelsea once the league had restarted, five defeats and two draws from their other games signalled that the tide was beginning to change.
Chris Wilder’s job has undoubtedly been made harder this season by injuries to key men. Jack O’Connell’s serious knee injury means that United have lost a man who was being touted for an England call-up such was his success in an over-lapping centre-back position. His absence has moved Enda Stevens, who was excellent at left wing-back last term, into central defence, meaning United have created a problem to solve another. Speedy striker Lys Mousset is also sidelined, which has been a blow, while John Lundstram’s contract situation rumbling on has also caused an unwelcome distraction. The Blades also lost influential goalkeeper Dean Henderson in the summer, which again changed the dynamic. Other players have been at the club since they were in League One and perhaps, with that feelgood factor no longer with them, they have reached their ceiling.
The failure to replace O’Connell in the transfer market looks like a big mistake as they are making defensive errors that just did not happen last season. But Wilder cannot say he was not backed in the window as he spent £18million on goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale before spending a club-record £23m on Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster – a striker who had not scored a Premier League goal before and has yet to hit the ground running. Ethan Ampadu and Jayden Bogle have not yet made much of an impact either.
For all their own problems, the Blades have had it tough in terms of the games they have had so far, which may distort the table. Their last three games have seen them lose to Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea – teams who will be fighting for the title – while also playing Wolves, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Leeds when they were playing well. Their only opponent played so far who will likely be around them in the table has been Fulham and they drew 1-1. Wilder has said that their next 10 games, which include playing the likes of West Brom, Burnley, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Newcastle, will decide their season.