Alan Biggs' Sheffield United Column: How I view United's Premier League fixture list... and how opening month could be key to their season prospects

Sheffield United fans can tell you better than most that how a team starts is not necessarily how it finishes.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 19 June, 2019, 13:00
Sheffield United's manager Chris Wilder - Picture Scott Merrylees

Both in 2016-17 (League One title) and 2018-19 (promotion from the Championship) Chris Wilder’s Blades blew apart the notion that a good start is essential.

However, that will be very much harder to apply to the Premier League and there is plenty of weight attached to United’s first month back in the Premier League.

It’s not so much about the opening fixtures being tough (they all will be at this level), it’s that three of the first four will be considered to be among the more winnable if the Blades are to survive.

That’s where any pressure - much as it is craved and a source of excitement - will kick in. Not in the red-letter dates circled against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United.

The Blades have only one of those in their first five - a trip to Chelsea at the end of August. Either side of that, they visit Bournemouth and have home games with Crystal Palace, Leicester and Southampton.

Now these are the sort of games in which United can realistically hope to be more than competitive. No disrespect to anyone here - there will be surprises along the way.

All these opponents are in the top league on merit. Leicester even won the title a few years back.

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But they carry less aura and expectation than others. Among other games to pinpoint for similar reasons will be those with Brighton, Burnley and Watford, besides the clashes with fellow promoted outfits Aston Villa and Norwich.

The blue chip games are free hits in many ways. And safe to assume the Blades won’t be staying up by winning, or drawing, the bulk of those.

So I think, looking at the card, the importance of a decent start, is more accentuated than usual.

As a random prediction on a set of results, how about a point at Bournemouth and four points from the home trio of Palace, Leicester and Southampton. That is not unrealistic.

Allowing that the visit to Stamford Bridge is likely to be lost, that would yield five points from the first five games. Not bad. Turn one of those draws into a win and it’s seven.

The top end of that has to be the aim considering what comes next. Away at Everton and home to Liverpool.

Now, I don’t think anyone will be hanging their heads or shouting from the rooftops regardless of the opening month or so. But let’s just say it would be an immeasurable help if those first five games produce a healthy return.