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It must be said that last season was a disaster for The Blades. There was an air of optimism around Bramall Lane before the season’s start after the appointment of Nigel Adkins, however the season ended in bitter disappointment. After promotions from League One with both Southampton and Scunthorpe, many fans thought the Blades were destined for the Championship. However, United’s 11th place finish was their worst since dropping into the third tier of English football again. The football lacked any sort of passion or desire, with a massive divide between the club and its fans beginning to surface. The tactics and substitutions at times were bemusing from Adkins, he seemed out of his depth. The players who were signed and remained at the club were largely journeymen. The arrival of players such as Martyn Woolford and Connor Sammon were not ones which tickled the tastebuds of Blades fans. As a result, the environment was very hostile at Bramall Lane at times. The club fell into what felt like a very stagnant period, with little sign of moving in the right direction.
However, things look more optimistic for United this season. Chris Wilder will take over the managerial role this season, himself a self confessed Blades fan. I think this will ensure a reconnection between the club and its fans around their now mutual principles. Wilder seems a man of principle and passion. He is a straight talker and will not bring in the overpaid, under performing journeymen that has plagued the club in previous seasons. In my view, he is a man that can revitalise the club and get the best out of its players. Blades fans will hope this will see the return of the never-say-die spirit and fight that was possessed under the stewardship of Neil Warnock.
Not only has the managerial staff changed drastically, so has the playing staff. With 7 new signings and many players being brought back into the fold, the Blades team will look very different this season. Wilder has also brought in 3 centre backs, a left back, a centre midfielder, a winger as well as one centre forward.
The new look United defence should be a vast improvement upon last years mistake-prone back line which cost the Blades a whopping 59 goals. Wilder has released the likes of Jay McEveley and Harrison McGahey to free up space for the new centre backs. It looks like Jack O’Connell from Brentford and James Wilson from Oldham Athletic will form the main central defensive pairing. It is a partnership which possess a great deal of pace and solidity. It is the first time since the departure of Harry Maguire that the Blades have had a pairing which has not invoked fear into the club’s fans. Furthermore new signing Jake Wright from Oxford will provide an experienced backup who can be called upon when needed, making the Blades defence the best it’s been for a while. However a new experienced centre back such as Matt Kilgallon or someone of that level of quality and experience may be needed.
Not only had Wilder solidified the back line, he has also added a great sense of creativity to the team. New left back Chris Hussey has displayed throughout pre-season the wand of a left foot he possesses. I’m sure we will see plenty of goals created by balls swung into the box from the ex-Bury man. Mark Duffy is also an astute signing by Wilder. The winger was included in the PFA’s team of the year. His direct style of play will be one which strikes fear into many a wing back this season. He will be a menace for any team United play this season and will create goals for fun in this league. Blades fans will hope he will go some way to replacing the sale of Jamie Murphy last term. This creative spark will also be helped by the arrival of John Fleck, Coventry’s player of the season last year. He will add the composed and ball-playing midfielder that will compliment he workhorse Chris Basham. I’m sure he will be a key component in turning possession into dangerous attacking positions this season.
To finish of the summer signings, Wilder has strengthened the club’s striking options. Leon Clarke will provide the robust goal-scoring target man the Blades have longed for. United will hope he can keep up his impressive scoring record in League One.
One very important player who shall not be leaving the club and will partner Clarke is the now captain Billy Sharp. His 21 goals last season were the only highlight in last season’s dreadful campaign. His goals will also be key in firing the Blades up the table this year, providing the Blades with what is arguably the most clinical striker in the league. Players such as John Brayford, Chris Basham, Che Adams and Matt Done will also be key players who will only flourish further under Wilder with his attacking brand of football.
Also with the likes of Scougall and McNulty coming back into the mix, United will have various options offensively. I think under Wilder’s management many players like the two named above will become almost new players due to his focus on work ethic and attitude. Thus will allow them to rekindle the glimpses of excellence shown under Nigel Clough.
All in all, United have a very robust squad. They are strong in all areas of the pitch, in particular in offensive positions. With a new goalkeeper, an experience centre half and ball-winning midfielder in the mould of Sam Morsy, I believe the Blades could push for automatic promotion. However as it stands, I think a play-off position is more than within the reach of the Blades and will where they finish this season. The ever-fruitful academy will also offer great strength in depth with great talent such as Louis Reed, Dominic Calvert Lewin, Ben Whiteman and David Brooks all challenging for a place in the match day squad.