The biggest talking points in the first half of the English Premier League have centred around who has been missing from the top six, with first Manchester United and Tottenham, then Arsenal lurching from one disaster to another. If recent results are anything to go by, Chelsea could be next to catch the bug.
But with the Big Six struggling, the door has been left open for others to occupy those coveted spots. Leicester City have been there and done it, so their presence in the top three is no big surprise. Similarly, Wolves proved last year that they have what it takes. But one team has exceeded all expectations. Could The Blades really qualify for Europe at the end of the season?
Defying the odds
When the three promoted teams arrive in the Premier League at the start of the season, you can usually predict which will have a chance of survival and which will yoyo back down. This year, Villa were seen as back where they belonged. Norwich were the unknown quantity, they can beat anyone on their day, but you can’t be sure when that day will be. Sheffield United, though – the Vegas odds on the sportsbooks suggested that while they’d done a fabulous job to get promoted, nobody could really see them staying in the top tier.
Yet 17 games in, The Blades have suffered only four defeats and accumulated 25 points. Those are identical stats to Manchester United whom, incidentally, they managed to hold to a draw in a bizarre game that saw them concede three goals in the space of seven minutes.
Old fashioned football
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is something of a throwback to a bygone age. No pat responses from hours of media training here, just a man who loves his football and expects nothing less than the best from his team. That was obvious from the outset when the footballing world was praising the team for coming out of its first game back in the Premier League with a draw, Wilder was ruing missed opportunities, and said it was a game they should have won.
It’s an attitude that clearly resonated with the players, and a victory over Arsenal alongside draws against Chelsea and Tottenham show they fear nobody. Another factor in United’s favour is that despite some recent injuries, this team has used only 16 players in the campaign to date. Compare that to some, like Watford, who have used 22 and you begin to understand what a cohesive unit they have become. Again, it’s old fashioned football for football’s sake and is a refreshing sight in the Premier League.
What’s to come?
Wilder continues to take a pragmatic, one-match-at-a-time approach and is wise to do so. After all, back in the 2008/09 season, Hull got off to a similarly meteoric start, taking 21 points from the first 13 games, only to crash and burn in the second two-thirds of the season.
Somehow, though, that seems unlikely to happen with The Blades. European Cup qualification is still a long way off, but the way the season has gone so far, you would be brave to rule anything out.