After numerous seasons of underachievement at Bramall Lane, the Chris Wilder era has finally seen Sheffield United on the path to success once again.
Promotion from League One last term (secured with 100 points), coupled with Sheffield Wednesday’s play-off heartbreak, means this Sunday throws up the first Steel City derby since February 2012.
United go into the game as 13/5 outsiders for victory at Hillsborough. However, there’s plenty of reason to believe they can outdo the Owls on the day and over the course of the season.
The signs have certainly been very positive so far. Billy Sharp is well on the way to reaching double figures in the Championship for the fifth time in his career. The local lad has managed the step up superbly, bagging four goals in seven league games already.
Unfortunately for Wilder’s charges, he – as well as Clayton Donaldson – are sidelined for this game, but the Bramall Lane outfit are far from short on options, with Leon Clarke and Ched Evans both possessing quality, experience and an eye for goal.
Still, it’s the Blades’ defence which has provided perhaps the most crucial foundation for their success in the opening weeks. Wilder’s well-drilled backline know how to protect a lead. Three of their victories so far have been to nil – including a clean sheet against Barnsley where both sides finished the game a man down.
In fact, the South Yorkshire club have conceded just six goals so far, giving them the fourth-best defensive record in the division.
The summer recruits have also impressed. Newboy Enda Stevens has barely put a foot wrong at left-back, with his tidy defensive play and attacking creativity making him a key figure.
Elsewhere, a debut brace for Clayton Donaldson suggests the veteran could prove a savvy buy in the long-term. As for Tottenham loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers, the (admittedly early) signs suggest the Blades have a huge natural talent on their books at centre-back.
As for Wednesday, consistency seems to be the problem. Victory at Fulham was followed by a Carabao Cup defeat to Bolton Wanderers – giving the Trotters their only win of the season to date – and a draw against lowly Burton Albion.
That visit to Craven Cottage was also the only time Carlos Carvalhal’s men have managed a clean sheet in 10 games across all competitions this season. If United can establish an early lead on Saturday, you’d have to fancy them to see it out.
The Owls have also been hit and miss at the other end. Gary Hooper and Steven Fletcher have both looked good so far, but big-money buy Jordan Rhodes is yet to find the net in six Championship games, while Kosovo striker Atdhe Nuhiu hasn’t scored in four outings in all competitions this term.
In the betting, Wednesday are 11/10 for victory, with United an appealing 13/5. As for the draw, that’s 11/5.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing