James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Why defeat could be the best thing to happen to The Blades

It makes for a nice line. A pretty easy one too, especially for those pundits and commentators who like to portray themselves as experts without ever putting in the leg work.

Thursday, 29th August 2019, 18:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th August 2019, 22:36 pm
Leicester City's James Maddison (right) takes a free kick against Sheffield United: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

But let's be honest, for all the talk of Sheffield United's over-lapping centre-halves, we have actually seen very little of the sort since Chris Wilder's side reached the Premier League. That isn't a criticism. Merely an observation. One Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson - "If that was happening all the time then I must have missed it" - will be happy to support. And, just for the record, he was also very complimentary about United following their win over his side earlier this month.

But as strange as it might sound, Saturday's visit to Chelsea appears to be the pefect moment for Wilder's squad to dust down the tactics manual which served them so well in the Championship and order Jack O'Connell, Chris Basham, Enda Stevens and Co to begin charging back down those flanks in a bid to overwhelm opposition defences. Not recklessly. But whenever the situation allows.

After a gentle'ish introduction to life back in the top-flight, the outing at Stamford Bridge marks the start of a difficult run of games for United. A proper welcome if you like, with Everton, Liverpool and Arsenal also on the agenda before the end of October, to one of the world's toughest domestic competitions.

The Star's Sheffield United Writer James Shield

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But it is a sequence of fixtures they can approach with confidence. Particularly if the lessons of last weekend's defeat by Leicester City are studied and learned.

Not-so-dark horses for Europa League qualification, Brendan Rodgers' side was stuffed to the gills with exciting talent. So the fact United trooped off the pitch wondering what might have been, not marvelling at the skills of James Maddison and Jamie Vardy, can actually be viewed as a pat on the back of sorts. A scrappy first-half, when neither team was at its best, finished 1-0 in the visitors' favour before United drew the second 1-1. It was not enough to deliver victory but had they gone for the jugular following Oli McBurnie's equaliser, there is every reason to believe Wilder's men would have taken all three points.

The fact they resisted the temptation to throw people forward can, perhaps, be attributed to one of the biggest challenges facing newly promoted clubs. After spending the summer listening to terrifying tales about the firepower their rivals possess, most are understandably cautious about truly opening-up and going hell for leather.

Not withstanding the argument that it is ridiculous to try and win an game of 'attack versus defence' against the likes of Sergio Aguero, Mo Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, United are always at their best when they release the handbrake and crank straight into sixth gear.

Sheffield United's Oliver McBurnie (right) celebrates his goal against Leicester City: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

If their meeting with City had been staged in a couple of month's time, when the novelty of competiting at the highest level has worn off, I suspect they would have torn into City with greater vigour. Hopefully that result will be a watershed moment. Psycholigically at least.

Sheffield United visit Stamford Bridge this weekend: Victoria Jones/PA Wire.