Sheffield United have missed Jack O’Connell this season.
O’Connell played the first two matches of 2020/21 before it was decided the defender needed surgery on a knee injury that has caused problems throughout his career.
The 26-year-old will now miss the rest of the campaign after having the operation.
In his absence the Blades have struggled. Heading into Sunday’s match against West Ham United, they are bottom of the table with just one point from eight games.
It’s the joint worst start in Premier League history. Only two teams have avoided relegation from this position in the past.
It’s quite the fall from grace after such an impressive return to the top flight last term. Chris Wilder’s side finished ninth in their first Premier League campaign in 12 years.
Not only that, but their 39 goals conceded is the best defensive record of a newly promoted team since the division’s re-brand in 1992.
O’Connell was key to that success, with the Blades keeping 12 clean sheets in the 33 league games he played in 2019/20.
This term, only the three newly promoted sides and Liverpool have conceded more than them.
But that doesn’t tell the full story.
Stats show how much Sheffield United miss Jack O’Connell
With O’Connell starting, the South Yorkshire team have a win percentage in the top flight of 38 since the start of last season.
Sky Sports have crunched the numbers and without the central defender, that drops to just eight percent.
Yet O’Connell’s absence isn’t just felt at the back, but also going forwards.
He is one of the overlapping centre-backs in Wilder’s unique system. When in attack either O’Connell – or Chris Basham on the opposite flank – is often the furthest player forward.
Jack Robinson initially replaced him in the back three, but doesn’t offer the same impact in the final third.
When O’Connell starts, the Blades make four more crosses and have two more shots on average over 90 minutes.
Wilder tried to address this by switching Enda Stevens from wing-back to replace Robinson. Unfortunately that has hindered his team defensively.
Stevens’ diminished height in comparison to O’Connell and Robinson has contributed to the Blades conceding a league-high of six headed goals this term.
Of course, all of this isn’t down to one individual. Football is a team effort.
But it suggests effectively replacing O’Connell has been a major problem – and one that is yet to be truly addressed.