Back in the Premier League for the first time since 2007, Sheffield United is ready for the big show. Managed by one of their own in Chris Wilder, the Blades are following in the footsteps of Swansea City and Bournemouth. Sheffield United finished second in the Championship behind Norwich last season but to me, they’re the promoted team with the best shot of keeping their place in the Premier League.
Armed with the joint best Championship defense, Sheffield United is coming. Good Championship defenses generally translate better to the Premier League than good Championship offenses and the Blades have quite the defense with Wilder’s preferred 5-3-2 formation. And unlike fellow promoted teams Aston Villa and Norwich, I expect that Sheffield United’s organized attack will hold up in the Premier League.
Sheffield United has a few new faces but not enough that there’s a concern of becoming Fulham last year and most of them also look to fit the team’s current style of play. So far, they’ve added: Luke Freeman, Oli McBurnie, Phil Jagielka, Callum Robinson, Dean Henderson (loan extension), Lys Mousset, Ben Osborn and Ravel Morrison. The most interesting thing looking at these names is that at least three are positionally forwards. Considering that David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp are 31 and 33 respectively, Chris Wilder is betting on a downturn in production from the guys who got the Blades here but is also ensuring that there won’t be a massive drop off because of it.
In this season preview, expect to find a comprehensive overview of the FPL and draft options on the Blades as well as an outlook on how I anticipate that the season will go. We’re working from back to front so let’s get started.
This isn’t the deepest position for Sheffield United but that’s fine because they have a stud in the top spot.
One weird thing is that all of Sheffield United’s options (Dean Henderson, Simon Moore, and Jake Eastwood) are priced at 4.5m. This is usually reserved for teams like Bournemouth and Burnley where there is no clear option, at the time of the game launching, for the top spot but this is Henderson’s team and for good reason.
On loan from Manchester United, Henderson just signed a new deal with the Red Devils before returning to Bramall Lane. Henderson isn’t a high volume shot-stopper, averaging 2.4 saves per game in the Championship, but that’s a number that will likely rise if Sheffield United’s cavalier play continues in the Premier League. Looking at the defense in front of him, Henderson will have clean sheet potential versus the bottom half teams which makes him a good rotational piece/ streaming option in draft leagues. One fun thing about Henderson is that he did have one assist in the Championship and is adept with the ball at his feet. Could Henderson join Ederson and Allison as the cream of the crop of long passing keepers? Quite possibly.
This is where the Blades do their dirty work in a 5-3-2 formation. Attacking full-backs, attacking centerbacks and the return of the Jags. This team may not have the flash of Wolverhampton but they will be damn effective in all formats. I’m not going to cover every defender here, just the ones with FPL relevance and one who I’d like to throw some cold water on.
Enda Stevens: Attacking fullbacks are king in FPL and Stevens was able to chip in with four goals and six assists in the Championship. Stevens has the counting stats to merit consideration but when you dig below the surface, issues begin to arise. I’d like to be higher on him but six assists on 39 key passes are pretty fluky making Stevens seem more like Tommy Smith of two years ago than Matt Doherty of last season. He’s still going to be streamed in draft leagues but if you’re looking for a steady fantasy asset, you may want to look further than Stevens.
Chris Basham / Phil Jagielka: Two 30+-year-old central defenders who will likely be in a timeshare this coming season, neither can truly be looked at for fantasy purposes unless one nails down the spot. My money would be on Jagielka who returns to the Blades, where he started his career in 2000 and after being on the last squad when Sheffield United was in the Premier League, it’d be poetic for him to help them avoid relegation this time around.
Jack O’Connell: Priced at 4.5m, O’Connell is the cream of the crop when it comes to Sheffield United defenders. In the top 15 of almost every defensive and offensive metric among Championship defenders, O’Connell will not only be a sold FPL asset, but he could also be a bonus point magnet when the Blades win games. Also, with the 9th most aerial duels won among defenders in the Championship, O’Connell should be owned in all leagues with 10+ teams.
John Egan: The final member of Chris Wilder’s back three, Egan is an interesting case. He’s not the aggressor of the centerbacks as he sits back racking up clearances and this limits his value in draft leagues. But then being the same price as O’Connell in FPL, it’s hard to recommend Egan as an option unless you want a Sheffield United starting double up.
John Lundstrum: There isn’t much to talk about in terms of stats for Lundstrum as he only made 10 appearances last season while collecting one assist. But being priced at 4.0m and listed as a defender while only playing midfield, a preseason that has seen Lundstrum feature a lot has him on FPL radars. Considering the fact that there are no good 4.0 options (Sergio Rico is far from nailed on at Bournemouth), there are much worse ways to burn a bench spot than Lunny.
It’s cut and dry in the midfield for Sheffield United save for the addition of Ravel Morrison. Considering that play is generally advanced by centerbacks and fullbacks in Chris Wilder’s system, it can be easy to forget that their midfielders exist but there are interesting options there especially for draft leagues.
Oliver Norwood: Did you know that this is the third straight time that Norwood has contributed to a promotion-winning side? Being involved with Brighton in 2017, Fulham in 2018 and now with Sheffield United, Norwood will finally get a crack at life in the Premier League. It's well deserved for Norwood as Pablo Hernandez was the only Championship player who supplied more chances than Norwood (97) in 2018/19. Norwood was also the leader in accurate corners and freekicks. This all led to eight assists and three goals, for Norwood. With the jump to the Premier League, those numbers may fall but Norwood's involvement in everything makes him a very intriguing draft option. If he's able to channel his inner Aaron Mooy into the top flight, Norwood can also make himself an FPL option at his price of 5.5m
John Fleck: The "other guy" in central midfield, Fleck had 10 assists and two goals of his own last season. Priced at 5.0m in FPL, he’s slightly cheaper than Norwood but don’t let that discount fool you into thinking that Fleck is worth it for your FPL squad. Fleck creating 71 chances means that with some regression, that assist number will drop by a lot entering the Premier League. Without set play dominance to prop up his value like Norwood, Fleck is looking like nothing more than a streaming option this season.
Mark Duffy: While Norwood is the cream of the crop, all plays ran through Duffy last season, leading to his six goals and six assists. The issue comes when you look at the fact that Duffy is 33 and was not a high volume shooter or passer for the Blades. This is why competition had to be added in the form of Luke Freeman & Ravel Morrison ahead of the season. Duffy is an intriguing player but the smart money is that his best days are behind him.
Luke Freeman: Signed for five million pounds from QPR, Freeman is another example of Chris Wilder bolstering an area of the squad manned by a 30+-year-old player. Freeman is likely to play in an advanced role for Sheffield United. One interesting tidbit is that no player in the Championship has provided more goal scoring chances than Freeman’s 311 since his debut in 2015-16. Freeman also has the most assists in that span in the Championship with 28. Freeman is one for the watchlist for me but he can very quickly become a quality option for the Blades if he wrestles a starting spot from Mark Duffy.
The forward line is what has changed the most for Sheffield United this summer and for good reason. With aging forwards leading the line, the Blades have bolstered the attack while creating a fantasy headache. I’ll go into these guys in how I anticipate their rotation will go this season.
Billy Sharp/ Callum Robinson: Billy Sharp is the reason the Blades are here with 23 goals and four assists last season. While Sharp has an insanely high conversion rate of 30.6%, it’s not a flukey number. However, considering the striker from a promoted team can expect to see 60.4% fewer shots, Sharp may have a tough time breaking 15 goals. Add in a threat from Callum Robinson, who signed from Preston North End and Sharp’s minutes will likely ramp down this season. Robinson could have upside in FPL if he nails down a starting spot as he’s a 5.5m priced midfielder playing forward.
David McGoldrick / Oli McBurnie: McBurnie joins the Blades from Swansea City after having been tracked by Chris Wilder for a while. The combination of a record fee and fact that he has been a long term target should see McGoldrick sweat over his place in the lineup. It’s another case of Wilder bringing down the average age of a position. McBurnie’s strike rate was close to Sharp’s in his 22 goal Championship campaign. He also mirror’s Sharp’s 6.0m FPL price, making McBurnie another player who can be an option down the road in FPL and deeper draft leagues.
Over the last three seasons, five of the nine risers from the Championship have retained Premier League status following their promotion. No club that conceded more than 58 goals secured survival, while Huddersfield Town was the only one to pull it off without scoring at least 34 goals. On average, those five clubs scored 51.7% less and conceded 22.6% more than they did in the Championship. From this criterion alone, Sheffield United would appear equipped to squeak out a 17th place finish. Considering the uncertainty around other teams in the Premier League and that the Blades have retooled without significant losses, I could see them rising to as high as a 16th place finish this season.
With Norwood, Sharp, and O’Connell, the Blades will have a player in most FPL sides at some point of the season while Chris Wider follows the Eddie Howe path to steal some hearts.