Skip to contents
Soccer

Rooting For Sheffield United Must Suck Incredible Amounts Of Ass Right Now

Oliver McBurnie of Sheffield United is fouled by Kyle Walker-Peters of Southampton during the Premier League match between Southampton and Sheffield United at St Mary's Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Southampton, England. A limited number of spectators (2000) are welcomed back to stadiums to watch elite football across England. This was following easing of restrictions on spectators in tiers one and two areas only.
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Coming off a fairy-tale, ninth-place return to the Premier League last year, Sheffield United’s followup campaign could not be going much worse. Through 12 league matches, United has suffered 11 losses. The lone respite from this avalanche of Ls came in a boring 1–1 draw to Fulham. With a third of the season already gone and just a single, solitary point to show for it, the Blades are buried in the table’s deepest depths, somewhere between the dinosaur bones and the gooey magma. It is fair to assume this has made the supporter experience absolutely miserable.

On Sunday, Southampton became the latest team to pile a couple layers of dirt onto Sheffield when the Saints beat United, 3–0. In Sheffield’s defense, Southampton has been one of the season’s biggest positive surprises; they currently sit in fourth place, just two points off the top spot. Still, playing Sheffield had Southampton looking like an actual Champions League team, which should never be the case when two midtable-ish Premier League sides clash. The Blades conceded 16 shots, managed only three of their own, granted the Saints 68 percent possession, and, befitting their hideous green kits, looked like puke all day long.

Now, if a couple years ago you offered Blades fans a chance to win promotion to the Premier League, enjoy one top-half season that featured wins over the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal, but in exchange the subsequent season would be a relegation battle, I’d bet you’d have gotten a lot more giddy acceptances than reluctant ones. So the mere fact that United is struggling this season isn’t itself what makes the experience so demoralizing. What truly sucks about supporting the team is how joyless this particular relegation battle has been.

If you have to root for a bad team, the least the team can do is provide some attacking entertainment to punctuate the losses with a few moments of excitement. Sheffield is failing most abysmally there. Over these 12 league matches, the Blades have scored a mere five goals, the fewest in the league. To make matters worse, two of those five have come from the penalty spot, while two others came from corner kicks. That means there has only been one single instance, over 18 hours of match times, when United fans have scooched to the edges of their seats in anticipation during a promising open-play move, and been rewarded with the euphoric release of a goal. That moment came two months ago, in the 84th minute of a match Sheffield was already losing 2–0 to Arsenal, when David McGoldrick fired in a neat little outside-the-box consolation curler.

(To be fair to McGoldrick, United’s leading scorer with all of two goals to his name, his other goal was a legitimately cool backheel that gave the Blades an early 1–0 lead on Chelsea—a lead Sheffield would give up 14 minutes later, accounting for a good chunk of the 42 total minutes the team has spent in winning position this year.)

Sadly, there doesn’t look to be much reason to expect anything different going forward. The Blades’ advanced numbers are only marginally better than their counting stats. (Per FBref’s numbers, their 9.1 non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes is second-worst in the Prem, their expected goals against is fourth-worst, and their expected goal difference per 90 is second-worst.) And unless serviceable strikers like Oliver McBurnie or Lys Mousset suddenly get way better, or 20-year-old Rhian Brewster accelerates his development and becomes a star overnight, it’s hard to see how United could find the goals they’d need to shoot their way out from the bottom.

A relegation might wind up being the price the Blades have to pay for last season’s remarkable run. FiveThirtyEight’s projections give them a 78 percent chance of going down, which feels about right. The club’s medium- to long-term prospects are much rosier, though, which might be enough to get fans through the dark days ahead. The Saudi royal family owns the club and will presumably continue pouring in money to guarantee success over the coming years, and manager and hometown hero Chris Wilder just this weekend got the rare vote of confidence that probably actually does mean he won’t get sack.

With the Saudi money and Wilder and a blue-chip prospect like Brewster in the fold, United should feel optimistic about securing an extended Premier League stay sooner than later, even if it takes another short spell in the second division to make it happen. However, it might be hard for fans to maintain that optimism when their team is set to get completely blasted every weekend from now until it’s warm again.