Sheffield United
Sheffield United

Sharpening the Blades: Could Sheffield United Be This Season’s Championship Dark Horses?

By the time you read this, seven Championship gameweeks – or roughly 15% of the campaign – will have been played.

And so while it’s rather premature to be making bold predictions as to who will dominate English football’s second tier, the league table is already showcasing an expected look and feel.

Bournemouth and two of the relegated sides, West Brom and Fulham, are very much in contention at the top of the standings, and maybe it’s no surprise that that trio leads the way at the head of the Championship odds as well.

But champions are never anointed in September, and there is ample time for others to force their way into the reckoning. Huddersfield Town are the early surprise package, so it will be interesting to see how they fare in the fullness of time, while most who have watched Mark Warburton’s QPR this term have been impressed with what they have seen.

However, there’s another candidate that is going under the radar right now – thanks largely to their sluggish start. Sheffield United lost three of their opening four games, and so any pre-season optimism to be found in the Blades campa rather swiftly disappeared.

But sides often take time to adjust under a new manager, and Slavisa Jokanovic – rather different in style to his predecessor Chris Wilder – has watched on as his players have struggled to adapt to his methods.

There are, however, green shoots of recovery. Jokanovic switched from the Yorkshiremen’s tried and tested 3-5-2 formation to 4-2-3-1 for the visit of Peterborough, and his side delivered a truly rampant 6-2 victory – new man Iliman Ndiaye leading the way with a brace of goals.

A 95th minute equaliser from Preston earned them a 2-2 draw in the War of the Roses game, but once again the Blades had the best of things and should have clinched all three points at Bramall Lane.

At 35/1 to win the title, the bookmakers are disregarding Sheffield United and you won’t find them listed bullishly in many Championship betting tips columns either. But with a quality squad, largely unchanged from the one that earned promotion to the Premier League in the 2018/19 season, and a manager with experience of successful promotion bids, are we being too quick to write off the Blades?

Been There, Done It

Given the nomadic nature of his coaching career so far, it would be easy to dismiss Jokanovic as a sort of managerial mercenary who will go wherever the money is.

Because beneath the globetrotting, here’s a coach who has enjoyed plenty of success in the dugout. He twice led Partizan Belgrade to the Serbian league and cup double, oversaw an ‘invincibles’ season at Thai outfit Muangthong United that saw them lift their domestic trophy and took Maccabi Tel Aviv to their first Champions League campaign in eleven years.

Of course, it’s his two promotions with Watford and Fulham from the Championship that are the most relevant. It was in 2014/15 that the Serbian took the Hornets to the promised land of the Premier League, and but for an injury time equaliser from Sheffield Wednesday, they would have secured the title too.

And at Fulham in 2017/18, Jokanovic repeated the feat – this time leading the Cottagers to promotion via the play-offs.

So here’s a head coach with a history of success, both overseas and in the rarefied air of the English second tier. Now that Sheffield United have started to find their feet under his stewardship, could Jokanovic be celebrating a third Championship promotion this term?

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