James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Why making predictions about the Premier League is a waste of time

The leak - a picture revealing Sheffield United would visit AFC Bournemouth on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season - proved to be correct. Well, partially at least. Barring Sheffield United’s visit to AFC Bournemouth, all the other supposed match-ups turned-out to be utter fantasy.

Friday, 14th June 2019, 2:39 pm
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

But as Bramall Lane prepares to host top-flight football for the first time in over a decade, followers of Chris Wilder's side inevitably found themselves delving deeper into the schedule when it was released at 9am yesterday. Peering beyond August's trip to Dorset and searching out those dates when the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and of course champions Manchester City will provide the opposition instead.

There is also temptation, as yesterday's talk inside Star Towers proved, to identify periods of the campaign when points might prove difficult to come by. The tail end of December and January was identified as one such chapter, with United set to face Jurgen Klopp's charges, Arsenal and Pep Guardiola's band of attacking galacticos twice.

But predicting when and where United will achieve positive results is a total waste of time. Indeed at this stage of the transfer window, when so few clubs have actually entered the market, there is more chance of MP's doing their democratic duty by delivering Brexit than conjuring an accurate assessment of how the season will unfold. Who knows, if Eddie Howe makes a couple of eye-catching signings then suddenly United's outing in Dorset might look tougher than, say, their skirmishes with Everton and West Ham.

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Injuries, suspensions and even acquisitions, given the complexity of modern football contracts, are also set to have a bearing on the race for both survival and the title. And timings of the first two are, no matter what these ridiculous so-called super computers tell you, are impossible to calculate. Their findings, together with much of what passes for 'fact' on social media, are probably best ignored. A bit like 'Fixture Gate'.

More importantly, perhaps most insultingly, these exercises in soothsaying fail to acknowledge arguably the most powerful weapon in United's armoury since Wilder's appointment in May 2016. Three years and two promotions later, his squad has made a habit of defying expectations. Of beating the odds and demonstrating that money, or spending it to be exact, is not always the best barometer or future performance.

Of course, the chances are United will suffer a few hidings given the vast gulf in resources between those hoping to compete at the top end and the rest of the division. In a strange sort of way, learning how to cope with defeat could turn-out to be the most important item on the agenda of Wilder and his players. After all, they lost only one of their final 18 games en route to a second-placed finish behind Norwich City last term.

But expect United to cause a few upsets too. After all, thanks to intelligent recruitment and canny coaching, coupled with a creative mind-set and tactical nous, defying expectations - albeit those of outsiders - is what they do best.