After romping to the League One title last term, this was meant to be a season of consolidation for Sheffield United.
The Blades are back in the Championship for the first time since 2011 and if their current form is anything to go by they won’t be there for long.
With almost a third of the season gone, United are sitting pretty at the top of the second-tier.
We examine why the Blades could be heading to the Premier League…
The perfect mix
Chris Wilder has built a side that has a perfect balance between youth and experience.
While proven quality and reliability is providing the goals up-front in the form of Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke, elsewhere there’s been a subtle emphasis on youth.
Welsh wizard David Brooks provided the winner in Friday’s victory over Leeds United, while the well-travelled Enda Stevens has been pivotal alongside 23-year-old Jack O’Connell in a backline that has the league’s joint second-best defensive record.
The loan market has also been utilised to full effect. Goalkeeper Jamal Blackman is a tried-and-tested Championship performer with Reading. Meanwhile, Cameron Carter-Vickers has impressed at the heart of defence on loan from Tottenham Hotspur.
All of those individual factors contribute towards United’s dynamic 3-5-2 formation which places an emphasis on fast-paced attack. Even then, they retain a defensive solidity that makes the Blades one of the most difficult sides to play against in the Championship.
Incredible home form
Put simply, Bramall Lane is a fortress. United have won six of their seven home Championship games so far this season, losing only to away day specialists Norwich City.
Look back further and their home record makes for even more impressive reading.
The Blades have collected 40 points from a possible 46 available on their home patch since defeat to Fleetwood Town in late January this year.
To put that into some context, divisional rivals Sunderland have collected the same number of home points across two and a half seasons in the Championship and Premier League.
Managing for success
The influence of Wilder on this side cannot be understated.
For the 50-year-old to come in, drag a sleeping giant like United from its slumber, and take them up at the first attempt is an incredible achievement.
But to secure the infamous double bounce would be something else.
And to do that on a tight budget in a league dominated by big-spenders like Middlesbrough and Wolverhampton Wanderers would deserve tremendous praise.
Sheffield United aren’t quite there yet, but if Wilder can manage expectations as he has done in his last two career promotions, then the Blades could well be eating from the top table for the first time in over a decade.
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