It’s safe to say Sheffield United haven’t got off to the start they wanted under new manager Slavisa Jokanovic.
Last night’s humbling at West Brom was an eye opener for many fans and, hopefully, the new Blades boss. Out fought, out battled, and out classed at the end of the day, United looked every bit a team in serious decline.
But while there’s an acceptance that things will take time under Jokanovic, there also has to be an element of blame go his way. Yes, the players are not doing the business on the field, but some of the tactical calls and selections so far have been baffling.
Beyond Jokanovic, and although not many will say it, Chris Wilder must also take some of the blame with some of the signings left behind. In simple terms, some are just not good enough, especially given the outlay.
Obviously, I don’t proclaim to be a master tactician. Nor am I a football manager. But I can see what obvious issues, and so far, Jokanovic has done some baffling things.
At Swansea, for example, he used Rhian Brewster – fresh off his first goal for the club – in a wide area. Last night, we didn’t even see the young striker.
Against Albion, he went with the ageing duo of Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick. But again, it was perplexing as to what system we were actually playing. Jokanovic bemoaned United not ‘using the space’ in behind West Brom. But Sharp and McGoldrick were never going to exploit that. If anything, it was the ideal game for Oliver Burke, and that’s saying something!
Finally, against a team who he knew would bombard the box, he opted not to play new signing Ben Davies, or Oli McBurnie. Both were baffling calls, and both cost us dearly.
In terms of picking the right XI for the opposition, Jokanovic got it completely wrong last night.
While Jokanovic has to shoulder the blame for this season, it’s also impossible not to look at what Chris Wilder has left behind. Obviously, Wilder’s legacy as manager is cemented. He is a club legend, and will go down as such in our history. But his business at PL level is open to questioning.
Yes, we all know the stories of apparently not landing first-choice targets such as Watkins, Cash, and Swift last summer. But Wilder was also delighted with the business he did, and even said it was ‘one of the best – if not the best – window’ he’d had at the club.
But let’s look at that window. Max Lowe is on his way out if reports are to be believed. Jayden Bogle can’t get a game. Rhian Brewster, as mentioned, looks a mile away from being a £20m striker and like Bogle, can’t get regular game time.
Aaron Ramsdale has been sold, albeit for profit so you could argue that was good business. Wes Foderingham, though, was overlooked for Michael Verrips. The less said on that, the better.
He signed Ethan Ampadu on loan as well. The Welshman did just ok, but has yet to be picked up this summer by anyone.
Wilder also brought in Oliver Burke for Callum Robinson which now, looks a completely baffling piece of business.
That summer, coupled with big money outlays in the 12 months prior on Oli McBurnie, Sander Berge, Luke Freeman, and players who couldn’t get a game at Forest like Ben Osborn and Jack Robinson, mean that this squad is nowhere near where it should be after two years of PL money.
Those players were all also signed for one system. That, naturally, has left Jokanovic in a tricky position in trying to implement his own ideas.
We all know it’s early days. We are three games into the Championship and Jokanovic could well get it right.
And while I’ve spoken about the manager, and the ex-manager here, the players ultimately have to take responsibility too. Sure, some of them might find it a struggle and also might not be up to the job.
But that shouldn’t stop them showing fight, desire, and a will to battle the opposition that was missing last night. Those things should be a given.
Huddersfield at home on Saturday now looks like a huge game already in the season. Win, and everyone will breathe a sigh of relief. Lose, and the moans and groans will only get louder.
The board must also shoulder some blame, I might add. We are three games into a season, with only one new face in the building. Appreciated, deals can take time. But other clubs have managed it.
It’s now up to Jokanovic, his coaching staff, and this group of players to move forward as one and show they can attack this division.