At the beginning of the 2019/20 Premier League season, the phrase most associated with Sheffield United was “yo-yo”. Their ascendency to the top tier was greeted with some surprise, and of the three teams to be promoted, this was the one seen as most likely to go straight back down when May came around. Yet, almost from the outset, it was a different story.
At the time of writing, the Blades have already accumulated 43 points, more than anyone could have predicted last August – and there are still ten more games to be played, although exactly how the rest of the season is going to pan out given wider world events remains to be seen.
That, however, is going to affect all teams equally and the point is that with Manchester City banned from the Champions League for the next two years, Sheffield United need a top-five place to qualify. They are currently two points shy of that and have a game in hand over those above them in the table.
What are the odds?
Even if the Blades don’t qualify for the Champions League, a. Europa League place is up for grabs if they can hold on to their current position of seventh in the table. Right now, if you take a look through the different UK bookmakers and what they have on offer, you’ll see that United are quoted at around 3/1 for a top-five finish and at even money or slightly odds on to stay in the top seven.
Tottenham and Arsenal are both behind them, which at this stage in the season suddenly becomes more of a cause for concern than celebration. After all, these are the teams that have done it all before and are historically more likely to have the staying power for a late-season surge that could spoil the party. But given the way they have performed so far, it is hard to see Chris Wilder’s men falling at the final hurdle.
The home straight
When the sporting world gets back to normal, United’s next fixture is against fellow promotion team Aston Villa. Early on in the season, Villa would have been favourites, but when they met at Bramall Lane in December, The Blades were comfortable victors. Interestingly, that win put them fifth in the table; if they can manage a similar performance at Villa Park, history could repeat itself.
Thereafter, however, there are some tough encounters, the biggest of which will be Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Blades will also be welcoming, if that is the right word, Tottenham, Wolves and Chelsea to Bramall Lane in their next three home fixtures.
Still, Wilder’s team has proved time and again that it is ready to meet any challenge. Who will ever forget those magical weeks in November when defences held firm and the team emerged from encounters with first Spurs and then Manchester United with honour intact and a point in their pocket?
This has been a curious year for the Premier League. The endgame is going to be equally unpredictable, for both sporting and non-sporting reasons. One thing is certain, though. However things pan out, The Blades will go down as the stars of the season. As for their European aspirations – well, who would bet against them?