Football is back. Both of Sheffield’s big clubs are back in action and will be locking horns with the rest of the Championship and Premier League as both campaigns get underway. Fans are keen to see how their teams perform and Sports Editors Patrick Burke and Tom Coates have offered their predictions for how both the Blades and the Owls will fare this season.
Sheffield United were one of the stories of the season last time out. They were doubted by many, but this is a team managed by one of the very best managers in the country in Chris Wilder, a team which has proved it does not leak goals and a team who will cause anyone problems with their innovative attacking play. They almost brought European football to Bramall Lane last season, which would have been one of the biggest achievements in Premier League history.
Under Wilder, the Blades tend to answer every question that’s asked of them, the latest being will they fall victim to a “second season syndrome”. I expect the answer will be no. United conceded only 39 goals last season, bettered only by the top three. Wing-backs Enda Stevens and George Baldock started every game last season, as did centre-back Chris Basham (John Egan and Jack O’Connell missed just seven matches between them too), and continuity has bred success.
The Blades would have loved to have kept hold of Manchester United loanee Dean Henderson in goal, but bringing Aaron Ramsdale back to the club seems a shrewd move as a replacement. He impressed despite Bournemouth’s relegation last term, and should receive greater protection than he did from the Cherries’ flimsy rearguard.
Max Lowe and Jayden Bogle have also arrived from Derby County to provide competition at left and right wing-back, and Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu does likewise at centre-back. Oliver Burke meanwhile joins with a point to prove having failed to make the grade at West Bromwich Albion.
Expect a big season from January signing Sander Berge, who proved his quality in midfield in wins over Spurs, Wolves and Chelsea towards the end of last season, and Lys Mousset. The French forward netted six times last term, and has been handed the number 11 shirt for this season – if he can find greater consistency in his performances, he will be a tremendous asset for the Blades.
It may be too much to ask to replicate last season’s exploits, and they will continue to miss the backing of their supporters as much as anyone, but United will continue to consolidate their place back in English football’s elite.
Sheffield Wednesday are facing an uphill battle from the start this season, beginning on -12 points. But in Garry Monk, they have a manager with experience under such constraints: his Birmingham City side were deducted nine points in 2018/19 (albeit mid-season) and still comfortably survived. They will need to start quickly this season, and can’t afford to carry over their form from the end of last term when they won only four times in the league after Christmas.
Wednesday’s ability to pick up the points required may depend on who else they can add to the squad between now and the end of the transfer window, with Chey Dunkley, Fiasyo Dele-Bashiru, Josh WIndass and Elias Kachunga joining so far.
Wigan Athletic proved last season how difficult the challenge can be on the pitch having dropped from 13th into the bottom three as a result of their points deduction. The Latics went agonisingly close to pulling off a footballing miracle. Wednesday should just have enough to beat the drop, despite the deficit.
The Blades appear well-equipped to avoid a case of second season syndrome, but will face stern competition for a top-half finish.
Their fluid attacking approach will still cause teams problems, and they have strengthened significantly in the wing-back positions with the capture of Derby County duo Max Lowe and Jayden Bogle. In midfield, they have an exciting blend of bite and flair that will enable them to take control of games, but they need their strikers to improve on their goal tallies.
None of their forwards reached double figures last season, and despite having one of the division’s most resolute defences, they will struggle to push beyond mid-table if they do not sharpen their clinical edge.
With a 12-point deficit to overturn, Wednesday will find themselves closer to the foot of the table than the summit, for large portions of the season at least.
Last summer offered glimpses that the club’s recruitment strategy was improving, and business has been shrewd once again. The arrival of Izzy Brown on loan from Chelsea means that the creative responsibility won’t rest solely on Barry Bannan’s shoulders, and in Chey Dunkley they have recruited a reliable Championship centre-back.
The squad still lacks depth, as misfiring Jordan Rhodes remains the only senior out-and-out striker on the books. The signing of versatile pair Elias Kachunga and Josh Windass, however, has given Garry Monk alternative options.
Wednesday won’t set the world alight, but their squad contains enough quality to keep the Owls in the second tier.