Sheffield United have a big problem in defence.
The season-ending injury to Jack O’Connell has had more of a negative impact than any Blade would have feared.
Without O’Connell – arguably their standout performer in 2019/20 – on the left of the central defence, United have struggled badly.
They did win their first match of the season at the weekend, beating League One’s Bristol Rovers 3-2 in the third round of the FA Cup.
Yet even against tier three opposition, their defensive fragility was exposed. Rovers twice capitalised from set pieces to make it a nervy finish in Bristol.
The Blades head into this evening’s Premier League match with Newcastle United still searching for their first victory in the competition this term.
They are currently bottom of the table with two points and 15 defeats from 17 games. They are yet to keep a clean sheet.
This isn’t entirely down to the absence of O’Connell, of course. There have been other factors. But replacing him in the starting XI remains an ongoing issue manager Chris Wilder is yet to address.
How to solve the biggest problem at Sheffield United
We’re not going to profess to knowing more than Wilder and therefore having the answer that he is yet to find.
Unfortunately, the main way to solve the O’Connell issue is probably to sign someone new. Wilder is in the market for just that, with Omar Colley, Ben Davies and Marcos Rojo all potential options.
However, until someone arrives through the doors at Bramall Lane that position needs to be filled.
Against Rovers, Wilder started Ethan Ampadu alongside John Egan and Chris Basham at the back.
Basham and Egan are shoo-ins in defence. As for Ampadu, the Wales international has largely disappointed since arriving on loan from Chelsea.
Whether in defence or midfield, the 20-year-old slows up play and potentially needs some time away from the team.
Kean Bryan came off the bench on Saturday and has previously looked solid in surprise league starts against West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City.
Yet, in all honesty, Bryan isn’t Premier League quality. The 24-year-old has only played seven times for the South Yorkshire club since joining in 2018.
Bryan’s appearances came from necessity rather than desire and last season he was on loan in League One with Bolton Wanderers.
Which, with Enda Stevens injured and preferred as a wing-back, leaves Jack Robinson.
Robinson has had his chances since signing from Nottingham Forest a year ago, playing 18 times.
The 27-year-old is some way from O’Connell’s standard, but is probably the best defender of the bunch. If Robinson is told to prioritise being strong at the back before considering any overlapping centre-back duties, then perhaps the Blades can find that first clean sheet of 2020/21.
At least until a new option arrives.