From relegation favourites to contenders for Europe: Can Sheffield United achieve the unthinkable and make it into the Champions League?
Sheffield United were 100/1 to make the top-six at the start of the season - they are now just 14/1 to finish the campaign in the top-four. The Blades finished runners-up in the Championship last term, earning automatic promotion to the Premier League for the first time in 12 years.
Many thought that they would struggle to cope with the demands of the top-flight; that they did not have the strength-in-depth to keep their head above water in the world’s most demanding league. However, after taking 39 points from a possible 75 in the Premier League, they have now silenced all of their doubters with a resounding swagger.
A squad who were playing in League One just three seasons ago was bulked by the additions of Oliver McBurnie from Swansea and Lys Mousset from Bournemouth last summer, while Oliver Norwood and John Egan had previously joined the club at the beginning of the 2018-19 campaign and both massively helped with the club’s journey to the Premier League.
McBurnie has been somewhat of a revelation since arriving at Bramall Lane for £17m six months ago, scoring four goals in 12 league starts for the Blades. Many questioned whether or not the Scotland international would cut it in the top-flight after spending the entirety of his short career in the Football League. Indeed, early indications suggest that the 23-year-old is more than capable at the very top, and that the next three seasons could prove to be extremely rewarding for both him and Sheffield United should he manage to sustain his current form.
These signings, alongside a squad of incredibly hard-working, talented individuals who all know their specific roles for the team, have made Sheffield United an extremely difficult side to break down this season. The likes of Chris Basham and John Fleck have been a huge part of the club’s success over the past four years; both were signed when the club were in the third-tier of English football and have risen with the club right back to the top of the pyramid.
Fleck has been one of the biggest surprise packages in the Premier League this season, scoring five goals whilst turning provider for a further two. The 28-year-old’s grit and determination in central midfield summarises Sheffield United’s ethos perfectly, and he is one of the main reasons that the club find themselves where they do at this stage of proceedings.
Defensively the Blades have been extremely solid this season, too, second only behind Liverpool in terms of goals conceded (24). Interestingly, the Yorkshiremen are among the lowest-scoring teams in the division as things stand, netting 28 goals so far, but the fact that they are so strong at the back means that they rarely lose matches (nine draws, ten wins, seven defeats).
Most of the credit deserves to be awarded to manager Chris Wilder. The 52-year-old has always gotten the best out of his players - whether it be at Northampton Town or Oxford United - but at Sheffield United, he seems to be working miracles. The players love him, that much is abundantly clear and shows in the way they carry out their duties on the pitch each week. The fans adore him, as well, and it is clear to see why. Wilder is a down to earth bloke that you can imagine meeting down the pub and having a chat with over a pint - there are very few top-flight managers you could say that about with ultimate defiance.
Now only two points behind Chelsea and a spot in the elusive top-four, with still 12 games left to play, is it beyond the realms of possibility that we’ll see Sheffield United break into the Champions League next season? It sounds unbelievably bizarre to even suggest - especially given the fact that at the start of the campaign the club were firm favourites to be relegated at odds as short as 4/6 - but it is now a genuine possibility, which really is an extremely exciting prospect for supporters of the rapidly-excelling club.
The Blades were also priced at a colossal 500/1 to make the top-four on the season’s opening day back in August - they are now as short as 12/1 with certain bookmakers. While it may well prove a bridge too far for Chris Wilder and his spirited side to obtain a top-four - or even a top-six - this time out, regardless of what happens, this season has been a memorable one for Sheffield United Football Club, and one they will not forget in a hurry. They continue to prove that you do not need an unlimited budget to be successful in the Premier League, just a squad of devoted footballers who are willing to give it their everything for the team.
Fans of the club may now want to keep their weeknight’s free next season.