PREVIEW: Blades v Swansea City
After one of the best and hottest summers in recent memory, where the country dared to believe and football definitely came home, we now await the real business to start. This weekend sees the return of the EFL Championship and with it all the hope, dreams and excitement that only the first day of the new season can provide.
Excitement, in the Blades case, that I feel is wholly justified. No doubt once the transfer window closes either Ben or myself will write an article on the summer as a whole, the ups and downs, and how we feel it panned out. For now I will simply say, we have managed to move on some deadwood in the squad who did not or would not be contributing at this level.
We have strengthened solidly without being spectacular. Dean Henderson is a fantastic young GK, one of the best statistically in the EFL last season. John Egan is the strong dominant centre back who we, at times, missed last season. Ben Woodburn is the exciting flair we were lacking, and a like-for-like replacement for David Brooks. On Thursday we announced the free transfer of young Kean Bryan, a highly rated ball playing defender from Manchester City, who has all the physical and technical attributes to be a star in the making especially under Wilder’s guidance.
Wilder and his staff have committed to the club and, despite the caveat of an ownership battle, things have rarely looked more positive, topped off with the issuing of a stern hands-off approach to any interested parties in our magic man Jack O’Connell.
The Opposition – Swansea City
So to our first game of the season and the visit of recently-relegated Swansea City. As the season rolls on, the plan is for these previews to be more analytical and statistical based; however the reality of the first day of the season is to quite frankly expect the unexpected.
In Swansea the Blades come up against a team who epitomise the unknown. After a poor and turbulent few seasons in the Premier League, last season saw the rot finally set in as the Welsh outfit were relegated. It’s been a sorry state of affairs at the Liberty Stadium for some time now, with the Swansea identity of short, sharp and incisive possession strategies scrapped as an influx of poor signings and even poorer managers became involved.
Fast forward to summer 2018 and it would appear there is a feeling of complete uncertainty over the club. In the summer the Swans made the big step of appointing Graham Potter as their new manager. The ex-Östersund coach spent 7 years in Sweden and managed to take the side from the 3rd tier of Swedish football to last 32 of the Europa League. He comes with a burgeoning reputation in football and wants to bring the Swansea identity back.
The squad itself has seen massive overhaul in terms of outgoings without much coming through the door to date. Their departures to date include key players such as Alfie Mawson, Lukasz Fabianski, Andre Ayew and Kyle Bartley. Incomings have understandably focussed on improving attacking areas for a side that only scored 28 goals in 38 PL games. Bersant Celina, the exciting but inconsistent winger, signed this week after scoring some eye-catching goals while on loan at Ipswich last season. Joel Asoro, the young ex-Sunderland man has lots of pace and promise but is unproven at this level. Barrie McKay comes in from Nottingham Forest who, on his per 90 stats last season, could be a creative force if played often enough. The real uncertainty lies with the system to be deployed and the way the squad will play.
Key Danger Men
Oli McBurnie – one many of us Blades are all too familiar with after McBurnie led Barnsley to a surprise victory over us at the back end of last season. McBurnie’s record was nothing short of astonishing. 9 goals in 17 games with a goals per 90 rating of 0.57 (8th highest in the league in 2017/18), all while playing for a side fighting relegation - a fantastic return. His style is quite unique: exceptional close control, ability to dribble and beat players without having explosive pace or power, and good link-up play with others in forward areas.
Tom Carroll – Carroll has pedigree. His time at Tottenham Hotspur was littered with reports of how highly rated he was. Possessing a similar style to our own John Fleck, Carroll has exceptional ball control skills and range of passing, and his low centre of gravity means he can accelerate into space quickly. Simply put if Carroll and this team gel he could be a key player and one of the better midfielders in the championship.
Expected Line ups
In preseason, Swansea varied their formation and personnel numerous times. It will be extremely hard to narrow down a formation that the Welsh outfit will commit to at this stage, but looking through Potter’s preference it would appear the Swans may adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation. With their main additions being in forward areas it is expected all the new boys will play and Potter will try to implement a fluid style with non-restrictive positioning on the front man. If it works it could be explosive and good to watch. Defensively they should feel comfortable with their options: Mawson is a big loss but both Fernandez and Van der Hoorn did show qualities at times last season and formed part of the 12th best defensive record in the league. A big miss will be Fabianski in goal who was vital last season and virtually kept them in games on his own on occasion.
United, as we know, have a very set way of playing. 3-4-1-2 is the formation that started last season and I expect the same for this season too. Mark Duffy will aim to replicate his form from times last year when his creativity was incredible and he pulled the strings in many games. I expect new signings Henderson, Egan and McGoldrick to start although the latter may be edged out by Billy Sharp. Ben Woodburn I feel is a little short having only joined the squad this week but I do know he recorded outstanding results on Liverpool’s preseason tour in terms of fitness, so could perhaps be an option. McGoldrick would get the nod to start in my eyes due his excellent performances in our friendlies. The biggest question is probably at RWB out of Kieron Freeman and George Baldock – something I explored earlier this week. I expect Wilder to start with Baldock who did little wrong and lots right last season, although this is a close call and I expect a running battle all season long for that spot.
Match Predictions – its competition time!
We at www.uptheblades.com will be running a battle between Ben and I to see who can predict the most scores and correct results from the Blades 18/19 season. 1 point for getting the result right, 3 points if we get the score right. It’s expected to be intense, cause tension and quite frankly divide us deeply but I feel we will somehow get through it! Feel free to chuck your own prediction in the comments.
Ben’s prediction: “I’ll predict 2-1 to United. I was impressed with our fitness levels in the Inter friendly so don't think we'll be slow starters. Swansea have had a messy preseason and are still offloading players and bringing in new ones. We have a settled squad and I think we'll win.”
Jay’s prediction: “We are the more settled side. Last season the only times we lost games against sides who also like to play possession football were against Wolves and Fulham, the absolute quality in the league. If this becomes a battle of footballing ability, in our settled system and a good pre-season I can see us dominating large parts of the game with John Fleck being key. Blades to win 1-0 and Egan to score the winner!”
Come on you Red and White Wizards! Enjoy all and UTB!