After Sheffield United won promotion from the Championship, talk turned quickly to how the Blades would survive in the Premier League. Although that objective has been easily met, there is perhaps a tinge of disappointment setting in.
With the Premier League undergoing a three-month hiatus, questions regarding momentum, or a lack thereof, were going to be asked, and with Chris Wilder’s men picking up just a point from the first nine on offer, it seems as if ‘second season syndrome’ may have crept in earlier than hoped.
There’s no doubt that Sheffield United have had an incredible campaign up until now and although we’ll never truly know the outcome, it does seem as if a break in play has hampered their chances of European qualification.
Has Second Season Syndrome Set in Early for Sheffield United?
Positive Momentum Halted
Not only have Sheffield United managed to hold their own, but they’ve managed to bloody the noses of the bigger clubs above them, and their performances in the first months of the campaign were testament to the effort involved.
When you consider that they have averaged less than a goal per Premier League game this season, more credit needs to go to a defence that has been no-nonsense and watertight, in highly-impressive equal measures.
With each positive result, more momentum has been created within such a tight-knit unit, and that is why a sporting hiatus within the country was arguably the worst thing to happen to Sheffield United.
That break in play has seen them lose their usual swagger, and the blood and thunder which was usually on display has been replaced by a set of performances which have suggested a lack of sharpness throughout.
In addition to a downturn in league form, the Yorkshire outfit have also had to deal with defeat at the quarter-final stage of the FA Cup, and what looked like being a very promising campaign is now in severe danger of petering out.
There’s always a sense that when promoted teams overachieve in their first top-flight campaign, they will eventually regress to the mean and that is when the deadly virus of ‘second season syndrome’ then shows its unwanted symptoms.
A Dash of Realism
However, there is a feeling that it has already grabbed hold within Bramall Lane. Although the start of March may have harboured dreams of a Europa or even Champions League journey to follow, now the mood has been somewhat tempered.
It’s a mood that has seen a dose of realism being handed out to Chris Wilder and his players, and although this season has offered a lot of moments to celebrate, the club will now have to quickly look ahead to the start of the next.
However, before transfer targets in the summer are drawn up and a refreshing of the squad is carried out, Wilder will need to make sure that the Blades’ poor run of results does not continue even further.
Should they end the season with a continual poor run of results, it will put them on the back foot for the 2020/21 schedule and it is there where the problems could really begin – problems that see the top half subsequently swapped for the bottom.
In addition to that, there won’t be as much money to spend in the transfer window. The manager discussed the shrinking of the budget with the local paper, The Sheffield Star, and it is believed £20 million to £30 million is no longer available.
When you account for the fact that Wilder has already squeezed every inch out of his team to get them from League One to the Premier League, a lack of new additions and the ability to refresh could prove to be their ultimate undoing.
There’s no doubt that the Blades have punched above their weight this season and on balance, it has been an unmitigated success. However, there are potentially choppy waters on the horizon, and it will be up to Wilder and his players to avoid what could be a dangerous shipwreck.