With both the Premier League and Championship seasons well over halfway through, it’s the perfect time to take stock of how United and Wednesday have fared so far.
Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United have exceeded all expectations this season. In their first campaign back in the Premier League they sit sixth in the table, just five points off Champions League football. Wilder has successfully implemented his attractive, attacking system in the top division without compromising results. They’ve overturned tricky opponents like Arsenal and Burnley, while running the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool extremely close. An incredibly tough side to beat, United have the second-best defence in the league, having conceded only 23 goals in 25 games. Retaining the core of the promotion winning side of 2018/19 has proved a Wilder masterstroke, as his group has a unique togetherness and spirit.
Centre-backs Jack O’Connell, Chris Basham and John Egan have been integral to United’s success this season, playing out from the back with confidence to start attacks, while young goalkeeper Dean Henderson has been largely exceptional.
Although they play attractive football, the Blades need to be more clinical in front of goal. They’ve scored only 26 goals in 25 games, with top scorers John Fleck and Lys Mousset bagging just five goals each.
Going forward, January club-record signing Sander Berge could be an excellent addition. The £22 million defensive midfielder already has Champions League experience and could anchor the midfield for years to come.
Relegation favourites before the season began, a top-seven finish is more than achievable given their performances.
For Sheffield Wednesday, it’s been an inconsistent season. After Garry Monk was appointed manager in September the Owls went five games unbeaten in the run-up to Christmas. The purple patch, which included wins against promotion hopefuls Brentford and Bristol City as well as a 4-0 demolition of Nottingham Forest, catapulted the club to third place in the Championship.
But since Christmas Wednesday have lost five out of seven league games, including an injury time capitulation at Stoke City, losing 3-2 despite leading after 93 minutes.
After a 2-1 loss to Wigan, Monk admitted that “there needs to be change”, and that “there are some players who shouldn’t be here at this club.”
But off the pitch, the threat of a points deduction for breach of EFL financial rules has loomed large.
Monk’s side now lie 11th in the standings, six points off the playoffs following a dull draw with Barnsley at the weekend.
Before he suffered a knee injury in January Steven Fletcher was Wednesday’s stand out player, scoring twelve goals. In defence Dominic Iorfa has been imperious, his recent goal-saving tackle against Millwall representative of his performances this season.
Since Fletcher’s injury the Owls have looked toothless. They are the lowest scorers at home in the Championship this season, having netted only 14 goals in 15 games at Hillsborough.
To address the goalscoring problem, Monk has brought in attacking players Connor Wickham and Alessio Da Cruz on loan, as well as Josh Windass from Wigan Athletic, who scored on his debut. Wickham has had previous successful loan spells on Wednesday, while Da Cruz promises the flair and creativity that’s often been lacking this season.
The target for the Owls is a playoff spot, but the goalposts may change if a point deduction materialises. Top ten may be more realistic.