Analysis: Prince Abdullah’s First Premier League Season with Sheffield United

Sheffield United FC owner Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad has been involved with the club for seven years, during which time the team known as the ‘Blades’ have climbed from the third tier of English football (League One) to the top half of the Premier League table.

Overall, can his first year as the club’s sole owner be viewed as a success?

via Imgur

Sheffield United’s league results since Prince Abdullah became part-owner (and later sole owner) of the club.

Strong as steel in defence

Sheffield United ended up ninth after rounding off last season with three successive defeats to close out the season. In turn, the main sportsbooks offering Premier League betting for 2020/21 will see them projected for another respectable finish. However, there is an ever-present feeling that the Yorkshire club will do well to finish in the top half yet again next year.

2019/20 was the seventh full campaign since Prince Abdullah bought a 50% stake in Blades Leisure Ltd. As Prince Abdullah’s eventually-won battle for sole ownership raged – before being decided in September 2019 – Sheffield United’s start was uninspiring, with a return of just two wins from the first eight matches.

It was not until after the October international break that Sheffield United really hit their stride, claiming a watershed 1-0 win over Arsenal, and beating a side seen as possessing greater flair. Pure teamwork and a perfect workrate rendered Arsenal’s reputation for stylish football redundant:

A run of just one defeat in nine thereafter put Sheffield United in real contention for qualification to the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League.

They were at their peak in the weeks running up to Christmas, winning their three games immediately prior to Christmas Day. The defence was also near-unbreakable in victory, with Sheffield United going into their Boxing Day fixture with Watford having registered a clean sheet in 20 of their previous 21 league victories across England’s top two divisions.

After going steady in the new year, Sheffield United ended March seventh in the league – just five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with an extra game in hand over them. History beckoned for the Blades, who some believed to be sufficiently disciplined in defence to maintain their momentum, and become the first newly-promoted side in the Premier League era to qualify for the Champions League.

By the same point, only champions-elect Liverpool – armed with amazing talents like Mo Salah – boasted a better defence, with Sheffield United conceding just 0.85 goals per match.

An opportunity missed for blunted Blades

If there was a turning point, at which Sheffield United’s quest for Champions League football was severely dented, it was undoubtedly the legitimate goal denied them at Villa Park, in the very first Premier League match ever to take place in June. It was as grave an injustice as anything seen since the introduction of VAR replays to the Premier League in August 2019.

After taking just a 0-0 draw from Villa Park, Sheffield United could not maintain the consistency of the preceding months, leading to their mid-table finish:

via Imgur

Naturally, Chris Wilder’s men must now prove that the campaign just gone was not a fluke, but without the pull factor of Europa League football to offer any new signings, the doubts surrounding their ability to execute another top-half finish appear to carry significant weight.

Ultimately, the way the 2019/20 is viewed may be retrospective. Finishing in the bottom half of the 2020/21 table will certainly make it seem like an opportunity missed, but anything above eighth will render it nothing more than a stepping stone, and a learning curve where Sheffield United defied the odds.

Owner and manager: An unconventional masterstroke

Next season will be the most defining of Prince Abdullah’s ownership yet. Unlike several other club owners foreign in nationality to the Premier League, he has placed unconditional trust in Chris Wilder, and it is deserved in the context of his man-management abilities.

The idea of brotherhood being a power of its own is illustrated with great clarity within the Blades’ squad. As such, it acts as a profound basis for the longer-term squad building agenda shared by Prince Abdullah – a Saudi royal – and Chris Wilder, a man who grew up in humble South Yorkshire.

It is a match that is unconventional at worst, and sublime at best – and everything the club needs at this moment in time.

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