Before the start of the season I wrote in Flashing Blade that the portents for this season were not particularly attractive, and that United would do really well to approach last season’s tenth place finish.
After two games there’s no reason for a change of mind.
There are many reasons for the degree of pessimism. Most teams, especially those recently in the Premier League, can spend and have spent far more money than United can do, and at the other end of the table the teams that have come up are stronger than those that went down.
Then there are doubts about whether players who performed at a high level last season will do so again, especially the players over 30 who are a year older.
For example, last season Leon Clarke was the leading scorer in the division who didn’t take penalties. The first games this season haven’t hinted at a repeat.
Two other highly influential players last season, Mark Duffy and Billy Sharp, would seem now to be on the fringes rather than at the forefront of Chris Wilder’s thoughts.
Even with the arrivals of David McGoldrick and Ben Woodburn, United are worryingly short of depth and quality up front. And without the money required to buy the big-name strikers in this division, United must hope that Wilder can find someone unheard of or unheralded and turn him into a gem.
There is also the suspicion that United’s playing style will no longer surprise; central defenders overlapping the wing backs may not catch teams out this time round.
Swansea’s wingers expertly exploited the space behind George Baldock and Enda Stevens, and United must find a way of stopping other teams doing the same.
Then twice in the first 20 minutes Middlesbrough showed that last season’s frailties defending set pieces has not been resolved. At least the players stuck at it on Tuesday night and kept trying to play right to the end, but that’s little consolation.
The other thing that may put a spanner in the works is the ongoing dispute between Kevin McCabe and the Prince.
Without going into details – I can’t, I don’t understand them – why is it that very rich men cannot resolve disagreements by talking to each other rather than going through the courts?
The only winners in these situations are the lawyers. The many losers include both protagonists – but they can afford it – Sheffield United as a club – who can’t afford it – Chris Wilder and, most importantly, the fans.
It might even be enough to drive Wilder away, and if that happens will McCabe and the Prince care or dare to admit responsibility?