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Sheffield United season preview - predictions, fixtures, summer signings, starting XI

Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at Sheffield United ahead of the start of the 2020-21 Premier League season.

Sheffield United will be hoping to avoid the dreaded 'second season syndrome' as they look to build on their impressive first year back in the top flight during the upcoming campaign.

Chris Wilder's side were challenging for Europe for the majority of 2019-20 and, while they ultimately fell short of that goal, a top-half finish was still significantly better than the vast majority of pre-season predictions.

Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at the Blades ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.



How did they fare last season?

Sheffield United players celebrate scoring against Tottenham Hotspur on July 2, 2020© Reuters

Far beyond anyone's expectations, but with a nagging sense of what could have been too.

Many pre-season predictions tipped Sheffield United as favourites for an immediate return to the Championship following their surprise 2018-19 promotion, yet they continued to upset the odds in the top flight.

Chris Wilder's side won seven games and lost just three before Christmas and did not suffer back-to-back league defeats until they visited top two Manchester City and Liverpool in succession either side of the New Year.

Victory over Norwich City in their final match before lockdown left Sheffield United seventh in the table and with European qualification firmly in their own hands, boasting a game in hand over fifth-placed Manchester United, who were only two points better off.

However, the Blades failed to maintain that form when football returned after lockdown, losing their first two games back 3-0 at the hands of Newcastle United and Man United respectively.

Defeats in their final three outings saw a season which at one stage offered the promise of European football end instead with a ninth-placed finish.

Even so, Sheffield United equalled their highest finish since 1974-75 and treated their fans to some memorable high points along the way, including victories over London trio Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea - the latter being their biggest win of the season at 3-0.



Biggest improvement needed

Scoring more goals.

Sheffield United will do well to improve at the back, where they conceded fewer goals than any promoted team in Premier League history, but there is room to do better at the other end of the pitch.

Despite their lofty league position, only four teams scored fewer than the Blades' tally of 39 and two of those got relegated.

Oli McBurnie, with six, was their leading scorer in the league last season.



Manager: Chris Wilder

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder peers at the action on February 1, 2020© Reuters

Not many people would have tipped Chris Wilder to reach the heights he has when he took over at Alfreton Town in the Northern Counties (East) League Premier Division 19 years ago.

It was not until 2010 that Wilder even broke into the Football League, leading Oxford United to promotion, and it was at Northampton Town that he really started to build his reputation, turning the Cobblers from relegation candidates to League Two champions in the space of two-and-a-half years.

Sheffield United were still in League One when he arrived in 2016, but two promotions in the space of three years earned them a return to the Premier League and Wilder has only continued to impress in the top flight, earning a new four-year contract in January.



Key player: John Egan

Sheffield United's John Egan is dismissed on June 21, 2020© Reuters

Sheffield United's overlapping centre-backs caused quite a stir in the Premier League last season, and any one of them could have been selected here.

John Egan was arguably the standout performer in the Blades' impressive first season back in the top flight, though, and will no doubt be at the centre of their attempts to replicate that this time around.

The 27-year-old missed just two games in the Premier League last season - both against Manchester United - and Sheffield United conceded six goals in that time.



Summer transfer business

Aaron Ramsdale in action for Bournemouth on July 12, 2020© Reuters

In
Wes Foderingham (free, Rangers)
Aaron Ramsdale (£18.5m, Bournemouth)
Ethan Ampadu (loan, Chelsea)
Jayden Bogle (£3.5m, Derby County)
Max Lowe (£3.5m, Derby County)
Oliver Burke (undisclosed, West Bromwich Albion)
Ismaila Coulibaly (£1.8m, Sarpsborg)
Rhian Brewster (£23.5m, Liverpool)

Out
Ricky Holmes (retired)
Mark Duffy (free, Fleetwood Town)
Ben Heneghan (released)
Jake Young (free, Forest Green)
Jake Eastwood (loan, Kilmarnock)
Nathan Thomas (released)
Jack Rodwell (released)
Kieron Freeman (released)
Phil Jagielka (released)
Leon Clarke (free, Shrewsbury Town)
Callum Gribbin (free, Barrow)
Marcus Dewhurst (loan, Carlisle United)
Luke Freeman (loan, Nottingham Forest)
Rhys Norrington-Davies (loan, Luton Town)
Callum Robinson (undisclosed, West Bromwich Albion)
Ismaila Coulibaly (loan, Beerschot VA)
Ravel Morrison (free, ADO Den Haag)
Regan Slater (loan, Hull City)

Sheffield United total spent to date: £50.6m
Sheffield United total received to date: £0

Sheffield United net transfer balance: -£50.6m




Squad

1. Aaron Ramsdale (GK)
2. George Baldock (DF)
3. Enda Stevens (DF)
4. John Fleck (MF)
5. Jack O'Connell (DF)
6. Chris Basham (DF)
7. John Lundstram (MF)
8. Sander Berge (MF)
9. Oli McBurnie (FW)
10. Billy Sharp (FW)
11. Lys Mousset (FW)
12. John Egan (DF)
13. Max Lowe (DF)
14. Oliver Burke (FW)
15. Phil Jagielka (DF)
16. Oliver Norwood (MF)
17. David McGoldrick (FW)
18. Wes Foderingham (GK)
19. Jack Robinson (DF)
20. Jayden Bogle (DF)
21. Michael Verrips (GK)
22. Ethan Ampadu (MF)
23. Ben Osborn (MF)
25. Simon Moore (GK)
26. Jack Rodwell (MF)
29. Kean Bryan (MF)
36. Regan Slater (MF)
- Stephen Mallon (DF)
- David Parkhouse (FW)



Possible starting lineup

SHUXI



Fixture list

Sheffield United will have to wait until Monday night to get their season underway as they welcome Wolverhampton Wanderers to Bramall Lane.

October looks particularly difficult for the Blades with matches against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, while November also starts with a difficult trip to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

January also looks like a challenging month as Sheffield United face Tottenham Hotspur and then both Manchester clubs in succession, while they end the season at home to Burnley.

Sheffield United's John Egan scores against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League on July 8, 2020© Reuters

SEPTEMBER

14: Wolves (h)

19: Aston Villa (a)

26: Leeds (h)

OCTOBER

3: Arsenal (a)

17: Fulham (h)

24: Liverpool (a)

31: Man City (h)

NOVEMBER

7: Chelsea (a)

21: West Ham (h)

28: West Brom (a)

Sheffield United defender John Egan celebrates equalising against Burnley on July 5, 2020© Reuters

DECEMBER

5: Leicester (h)

12: Southampton (a)

15: Man Utd (h)

19: Brighton (a)

26: Everton (h)

28: Burnley (a)

JANUARY

2: Crystal Palace (a)

12: Newcastle (h)

16: Tottenham (h)

26: Man Utd (a)

30: Man City (a)

Sheffield United's David McGoldrick scores against Chelsea in the Premier League on July 11, 2020© Reuters

FEBRUARY

2: West Brom (h)

6: Chelsea (h)

13: West Ham (a)

20: Fulham (a)

27: Liverpool (h)

MARCH

6: Southampton (h)

13: Leicester (a)

20: Aston Villa (h)

APRIL

3: Leeds United (a)

10: Arsenal (h)

17: Wolves (a)

24: Brighton (h)

Sheffield United's Oliver McBurnie celebrates scoring against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League on July 2, 2020© Reuters

MAY

1: Tottenham (a)

8: Crystal Palace (h)

11: Everton (a)

15: Newcastle (a)

23: Burnley (h)



Prediction: 14th

There is no doubting that Sheffield United overachieved last season and, while they deserve huge credit for that, it is also important to remember that their squad is still largely the one that got promoted from the Championship - with a few players left from the League One days too.

Chris Wilder has them organised in a way that they will be always difficult to beat and so we cannot see them suffering second season syndrome to its full extent, but it will be a struggle to replicate last season's success and they may be closer to a relegation battle than a European one this time around.

The big summer signing of Aaron Ramsdale is a direct replacement for Dean Henderson, who has returned to parent club Manchester United. Ramsdale conceded 29 goals more than Henderson last season, so how he fares behind a better defence could have a big bearing on the Blades' final position considering their lack of goals at the other end.


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Callum Robinson celebrates scoring for West Brom on February 22, 2020
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