Sheffield United have started 2021 with a 2-0 defeat to Crystal Palace. The Blades are sitting bottom of the table with just two points through 17 games. It is the worst start ever made to a Premier League season by any club. The team looks a shadow of the side from last season that narrowly missed out on Europe.
With such a dramatic decline in such a short period of time, the question on every football fan’s lips is, what has gone wrong for Sheffield United?
Poor transfer business
Sheffield United’s poor transfer business in the summer window is one glaring reason behind the club’s awful form this season.
The Premier League is the richest football league in the world and each year clubs spend millions strengthening their squads. The money available to every team in the league is at a record high and allows each team to improve their squad year on year. The effect of this can be seen clearly with the league being extremely competitive, just seven points separating the top 10 in the table.
This makes it crucial to have good transfer windows consistently. Unfortunately for Sheffield United, their summer transfer window was shambolic. They spent £55 million and so far, have very little to show for it.
Rhian Brewster was the marquee signing. He came from Liverpool for a fee of £23 million and was brought in to add pace and goals to Sheffield’s attack. However, he has not delivered. The young striker has made 12 appearances this season and not managed a single goal contribution.
Oliver Burke was another summer signing made by Chris Wilder. The young Scottish winger left West Brom for a fee of £6 million. Again, like Brewster, Burke was signed to add pace, goals and creativity to the Blade’s attack. So far, he has failed to perform well and only notched one assist in 10 league appearances.
The only new signing that has been positive for the Blades is goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. Just 22 years old, Ramsdale has performed well in between the sticks and showed great natural shot stopping ability. However, the criticism for Sheffield United is that £18 million is a lot to spend on a goalkeeper, and Ramsdale is not an upgrade on Dean Henderson from last season.
The only positives Sheffield United can take from their summer transfer window, is that all the signings they made were very young players. Whilst they aren’t delivering right now, in the future they should improve and do good things for the club.
Sheffield United have suffered from some bad luck this season as well. Jack O’Connell got injured in the first game of the season and isn’t scheduled to return before May. O’Connell is a key part of the Blade’s defence and they have missed him greatly this season, already conceding 29 goals compared to 39 conceded the whole of last season.
Sander Berge is another player missing through injury. He picked up a tendon tear against Manchester United in December and is set to miss at least three to four months with it. The young Norwegian was enjoying his best spell with the club since joining last year and was starting consistently. Berge was one of few bright sparks for the Blades this season and his injury has been a massive blow for Sheffield.
Another problem Sheffield United have faced this season is John Lundstram. The midfielder was crucial to their success last season in the league. He made 34 appearances and was the engine in Sheffield’s high intensity midfield. He also chipped in with five goals. Yet this season he has only played five games for the club. At the end of October, Lundstram rejected a new contract which Chris Wilder described as “very frustrating”. Since then, Lundstram has not started a game for the Blades and is heavily linked with a move to Rangers. Missing these three players long term throughout the course of the season has had serious ramifications for Sheffield United this season. Without O’Connell and Lundstram, the team lacks the bite and defensive intensity it thrived on last season.
Can they escape relegation?
Sheffield United are currently 12 points off safety with just over half of the season still to play; escaping relegation will be a massive ask. However, with Chris Wilder at the helm, it might just be possible.
Wilder loves Sheffield United, and the club, fans and players reciprocate that love. He has taken the club from League One to the Premier League and he proved last season that he could handle the top flight. Although this season has been shambolic, Wilder and his players have the mentality and ability to turn it round.
It is crucial that they recruit in the January transfer window. The team desperately needs more firepower, alongside squad depth. This should be achievable.
They have the funds to sign a proven goal scorer in this window and need to put all their efforts into this. Alongside an attacker, the Blades need squad depth. Loan deals could be the perfect way to accomplish this. Bring in young, hungry players looking to prove themselves, to rejuvenate the squad and give more depth. If they can recruit well in January, it could save them from relegation.
Time will tell
Time will tell if Sheffield United can change their fortunes and pull off the great escape from relegation. With just two points almost halfway through the season, it looks very unlikely.
However, Chris Wilder and his team are renowned for being workhorses that leave everything on the pitch and defy the odds. If any team can change their fortunes and climb back from a 12-point gap, it is Sheffield United.