So, after 16 months away, a change in manager, and a drop back into the Championship, Sheffield United fans finally returned to Bramall Lane last night against Birmingham City.
And in true Sheffield United supporter fashion, most were left with that all too familiar feeling of being deflated and let down.
Of course, things will take time under Slavisa Jokanovic. It’s a new manager, with new coaches, and new ideas. The players too, need time with it. A disrupted pre-season hasn’t helped matters, and it showed last night.
But there was more than one thing to pick out last night, and we’ve had a go at looking at the positives and negatives from Sheffield United’s opening day defeat against Birmingham City.
Positive – Plenty of the ball
It’s probably going to be something we see a lot of this season, but United had so, so much of the ball. According to BBC Sport’s match report, the Blades had a whopping 76% of possession.
United played patiently – albeit too patient at times – as the game ran through the likes of Sander Berge and Ollie Norwood.
Jokanovic’s task now is to try and turn that possession into chances and goals. For all United’s 16 attempts last night, only two were on target.
Negative – What was the formation?
While players do need time to get used to things, the formation and shape at times last night was baffling.
Clearly, Jokanovic wants us to be free-flowing in a way. David McGoldrick was popping up everywhere, but then were also huge gaps. John Fleck played wide right and wide left at times, and was simply wasted.
The front two, or three at times, seemed unsure of when to drop, when to run in behind, and when to take a gamble. All in all, the whole team looked extremely disjointed.
Hopefully, this comes with a few more weeks on the training ground.
Negative – Mousset’s injury
Just when United fans get excited about seeing Lys Mousset again, he goes and appears to have pulled his hamstring. It was a massive shame, and left a deflating feeling around Bramall Lane.
Mousset had actually looked quite lively as well. He was buzzing about, looking to get in behind, and was our main threat in the final third.
For ‘Moose’, it was also a sickener on a personal level. He’s worked hard this summer and Jokanovic is said to like him a lot. A blow so early in the season was the last thing he needed.
Positive – Berge a Rolls Royce…if we can keep him
Sander Berge was arguably the best player on the pitch last night. Well, from a United perspective, anyway.
The second half in particular saw Berge go on a number of his trademark lung-busting runs from deep. Birmingham simply pulled him back and took the yellow cards to stop him.
On the plus side, if that’s a sign of how Championship teams want to handle Berge, then it bodes well for United. We do, of course, need to hang onto Berge, but there are just a few weeks of the window left now.
He showed enough last night to suggest he’ll be a real asset for the Blades this season.
Negative – Set pieces
Set pieces, and in particular, the corners, were abysmal last night. Birmingham simply cleared more or less every ball into the box, and Norwood’s delivery left a lot to be desired.
There was also the bizarre call to see Sander Berge stood near the taker, and not in the box. Given he is over six-foot, and the Blues had some giants at the back, it was a very odd decision.
The Championship is a different league to the Premier League. Games can be won and lost on set-pieces and teams spend a lot of time getting them right. United need to do the same, or it’s set to be a frustrating watch.