Why Sheffield United should be delighted with their fixtures at start of the new Championship season
The first thing you notice is its relentless nature.
After being able to keep most of their midweeks free for the past two seasons, Sheffield United’s schedule now includes 10 outings on either a Tuesday or a Wednesday night.
But Slavisa Jokanovic, who officially takes charge at Bramall Lane next week, will be broadly satisfied with his new team’s schedule during the opening weeks of the Championship campaign.
United face some difficult assignments on their return to the EFL. But their start could have been tougher - even though it contains meetings with both the beaten play-off finalists and West Bromwich Albion who were also relegated from the Premier League last term.
Birmingham City, who visit Bramall Lane for Jokanovic’s debut as United manager, are likely to provide stubborn opposition under Lee Bowyer.
United then visit The Hawthorns 11 days later for a contest which pits them against another of the teams expected to challenge for promotion.
But arguably the most difficult match they will play during the opening month is sandwiched in between. That takes place at the Liberty Stadium on August 14th, when Swansea City provide the opposition.
Like United, West Brom are entering a period of transition with Barnsley’s Valerien Ismael expected to be unveiled as Sam Allatdyce’s successor shortly. But unless Steve Cooper departs following their defeat at Wembley, City will be a well-oiled, well-drilled and well-functioning machine. Indeed, even if the former England youth coach moves on, Swansea will appoint someone who plays exactly the same way meaning the switch should be seamless.
United complete the month with matches against Huddersfield Town and Luton Town, who will both be determined to issue early statements of intent as they look to improve upon their results during the previous campaign.
But inevitably, the eyes of everyone set to follow the fortunes of Jokanovic’s side will be drawn to those clashes with West Brom and City.
Although some folk at United would have preferred to face them later, allowing the Serb time to settle in before facing two fellow big guns, it will not have escaped his notice that the timing could suit United.
With Ismael yet to be unveiled, West Brom are still likely to be applying the finishing touches to their work in the transfer market when Jokanovic’s men travel to the Midlands. In South Wales, Swansea might not have replaced defender Marc Guehi, so impressive on loan from Chelsea during their match towards Wembley, by the time Jokanovic’s men cross the border.
With the former Yugoslavia international telling his new employers that he plans to retain large parts of the strategy and gameplan his predecessor Chris Wilder devised during five largely successful years at the helm, United’s players are unlikely to experience too many changes when they return to competitive action.
Restoring the confidence of a squad which lost 29 of its last 38 PL outings is arguably the biggest challenge facing Jokanovic right now, with many of those at his disposal appearing woefully short of self-belief before results improved once their fate was sealed.
Early victories over West Brom and Swansea, after making a positive start on home soil, would go a long way towards accelerating that process.