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How newly-promoted Sheffield United have put themselves in European contention

Chris Wilder’s team are fifth in the table and just two points shy of the Champions League places.

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Chris Wilder’s team have been the surprise package this season in the Premier League (Tess Derry/PA)

Chris Wilder’s team have been the surprise package this season in the Premier League (Tess Derry/PA)

Chris Wilder’s team have been the surprise package this season in the Premier League (Tess Derry/PA)

Sheffield United have been a revelation this season. Many tipped them for an immediate return to the Championship following promotion but the club’s first top-flight campaign for 12 years has been a resounding success so far.

Chris Wilder’s team are fifth in the table and just two points shy of the Champions League places following Sunday’s home win against Bournemouth.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the reasons why the Blades are exceeding expectations.

Defensive unit

Tottenham Hotspur v Sheffield United – Premier League – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Sheffield United defenders George Baldock (centre) and Chris Basham get to grips with Tottenham’s Son Heung-min (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Every single player knows their job in this Blades team, making them very well organised. They have conceded just 24 goals in 25 games, with only runaway leaders Liverpool letting in fewer in the Premier League so far this season.

Defensively they have been so resilient. Wilder’s side have faced just 87 shots on target, which is the fourth lowest in the top flight and, on a per-shot basis, again only Liverpool have been harder to score against. The Blades have faced 12.4 shots per goal conceded.

Attack from the back

Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest – Sky Bet Championship – Bramall Lane
Enda Stevens has been productive for Sheffield United down the left-hand side (Nigel French/PA)

Playing five at the back enables wing backs George Baldock and Enda Stevens to attack from wide positions and get plenty of crosses into the opposition penalty area.

Stevens in particular has been a threat down the left, creating 27 chances in the Premier League so far. Before this weekend, only four defenders – Trent Alexander-Arnold (65), Lucas Digne (55), Andy Robertson (32) and Cesar Azpilicueta (28) had produced more.

Mean Dean

Wilder was eager to get Dean Henderson back on loan from Manchester United over the summer, following his impressive performances last season as the Blades won promotion, and it is clear to see why.

The promising 22-year-old has kept the joint-most clean sheets of any goalkeeper in the Premier League this season with nine. Henderson has made 63 saves from 84 shots on target faced, equating to a save percentage of 75 per cent – with only Alisson (87.2 per cent) and Hugo Lloris (79.5 per cent) having better statistics.

Battling qualities

Sheffield United v Crystal Palace – Premier League – Bramall Lane
John Lundstram’s late goal gave Sheffield United a 2-1 win against Bournemouth (Tim Goode/PA)

Wilder’s side play some good football but they are not afraid to do the ugly side of the game too. They are joint-fourth in the Premier League for yellow cards, which shows they are competitive and fight hard.

The Blades have also made 294 interceptions and produced 268 successful tackles in just 25 matches, ranking third and sixth respectively in the Premier League, while the victory against Bournemouth was the ninth time they have salvaged something from a match after falling behind.

Impact subs

John Lundstram climbed off the bench to score United’s winner on Sunday and it was the sixth time this season that a substitute had netted for the Blades, which is more than any other club in the Premier League.

PA