Blades’ staying power
IT MIGHT be tempting to attribute the fact that Sheffield United are still searching for their first win of their campaign after seven attempts to ‘second season syndrome’.
You know the often-floated theory that a team labelled a breath of fresh air, quite often after time away from the top flight, have been ‘found out’.
A theory that suggests that players energised to raise their game for a season on Match of the Day can no longer sustain their levels when tasked with a second slog against the odds.
The one that claims that a manager heralded last season as a shrewd alchemist has somehow morphed over one summer into a dinosaur incapable of adaptation.
It would be tempting to spot the syndrome here, particularly given the way Manchester City beat the Blades, at times leaving them clinging on to respectability. But it would be wide of the mark. Why? Because second season syndrome does not really exist.
At least not in any quantifiable way.
Of the last 30 teams promoted to the Premier League since 2009, 19 made it through their first season to a second. Nine did worse the following year including four who were relegated.
The same number, nine, did better including Leicester City who followed up a 14th place in 2015 by becoming champions.
On the face of it, that possibility can safely be ruled out for Chris Wilder’s hardworking outfit who could also struggle to match last season’s 54 points or ninth-placed finish.
But it would be a major surprise if Wilder and Co were relegated. In those seven games so far the Blades have lost by a single goal to Aston Villa, Leeds, Arsenal, Liverpool and now City.
The one real disappointment was a 1-1 with Fulham, when a Billy Sharp penalty saved them.
Against Liverpool they led at Anfield for half an hour only to succumb to a sucker-punch after the hour mark. Here they withstood an onslaught from a City side who at times worked the ball like pinball flippers.
In the first half Raheem Sterling was unplayable for stretches and Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva were a constant threat driving from deep. But it is up front that the Blades’ shortcomings show.
Wilder recognised this during the summer and splashed out £23.5million on Rhian Brewster from Liverpool. But he has yet to hit his straps. His best chance yesterday came on the hour when he was clean through.
As it happened he was offside but his attempt to chip Ederson rather than try to knock it around him (he was outside his area) hinted at a player not feeling confident.
Wilder appears to favour pairing him with Oli McBurnie.
The forward is hard-working and aggressive – he left Ruben Dias in a crumpled heap in the first minute – but he scored only six goals in 36 league appearances last season and has yet to score this one.
He is keeping out the one man to score in open play this season, David McGoldrick, and only because he got just two goals in 28 last season.
It is not enough.
Before the game Pep Guardiola had said: “Sheffield are one of the strongest teams in the Premier League. Their position in the table is another example of how strange our world is right now.”
The way Pep paced his area anxiously after Wilder’s men dug in, then threatened parity late with pressure, suggested the Blades WILL have enough for a third season in the top flight.