James Shield - This could be a season Sheffield United grow into as they prepare to begin life under Slavisa Jokanovic

The new season is upon us.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 7:33 pm

Let’s hope it proves to be much more enjoyable and less excruciating than the last one, which saw Sheffield United not only surrender their Premier League status but also part company with their hugely popular and successful manager Chris Wilder.

His replacement, Slavisa Jokanovic, is also a promotion specialist after leading Watford and Fulham out of the Championship. Although he hasn’t said so explicitly, completing the hat-trick with United is obviously the Serb’s aim. Every man, woman and child set to attend Saturday’s match against Birmingham City knows that.

Having represented Yugoslavia, Chelsea and Deportivo La Coruna as a player, Jokanovic also has a reputation for building teams that are as effective as they are easy on the eye. Which is precisely why, having seen their warm-up schedule disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, we might need to show a little patience towards United at the beginning of the campaign.

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Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic speaks to his squad during their traijing camp in Spain earlier this summer

Although Jokanovic suggested he would be making subtle rather than sweeping changes to Wilder’s game plan after being presented to the media last month, the evidence of the two friendlies United have managed to play since returning to training suggest otherwise.

Yes, the personnel at his disposal remains largely the same. Which, in the circumstances, might well prove to be an advantage. But in terms of their playing style, United are definitely doing things differently. Very differently in fact.

If sliding back into the second tier brings any benefit for United, it is the fact they can begin going straight for the jugular of the opposition once again rather than adopting the more cautious approach they were forced to employ against top-flight sides.

Having shoehorned three strikers into his first two starting elevens, although he pointed out that David McGoldrick’s position has changed, Jokanovic is clearly preparing to try and attack the division. But it is at the back, where United played their way out of trouble during those meetings with Europa point and Doncaster Rovers, where things appear to have undergone the most radical transformation.

It is a high risk strategy. But one which promises to make for compelling viewing.

Ideally, Jokanovic would rather United had spent more than 180 minutes rehearsing his tactics and strategy. Ninety of those, when plans for a run-out against Braga were shelved because of a change to the government’s travel restrictions, came against a pretty limited side from Gibraltar. Attempts to arrange a couple of behind closed doors clashes at the Steelphalt Academy also came to nothing when United’s players were forced to isolate following an outbreak of the respiratory disease within their own squad.

Jokanovic will have been drilling his charges even harder during training as a result of those changes to their summer schedule. But nothing, particularly when you are road testing a fresh set of tactics, beats trying them out in a semi-competitive environment.

United appear well-equipped to prosper moving forward. Particularly if they can keep Aaron Ramsdale out of Arsenal’s clutches and bring in a couple of new faces themselves.

But I suspect, because of how Jokanovic wants to go about things, this might be a season United grow into rather than come bursting straight out of the blocks.