After two years in the Championship, Sheffield United have returned to the Premier League and will be eager to impose themselves in the top flight.
Paul Heckingbottom led the South Yorkshire outfit to a second-place finish in the second division, earning an automatic promotion alongside runaway winners Burnley.
The Blades are faced with several challenges, including the possibility of a takeover which could become a distraction and affect the morale in the dressing room.
Survival will be the primary objective, but if last term’s momentum can take them to the magical 40-point mark early enough, they can dream of achieving more.
Here is our United season preview for 2023/24. You can also check out our detailed Premier League season previews for all 20 teams.
Sheffield United Fixtures
United will take on Crystal Palace at Bramall Lane in their first match back in the Premier League on August 12.
They then travel to City Ground to face former Championship foes Nottingham Forest before hosting defending champions Manchester City in their final August fixture.
Heckingbottom’s side will travel to Tottenham Hotspur on September 16 before hosting Newcastle United the following weekend.
Manchester United will visit Bramall Lane on October 21 before travelling to the Emirates Stadium to face last season’s runners-up, Arsenal, just a week later.
December’s jampacked schedule will see the Blades take on Burnley (A), Liverpool (H), Brentford (H), and Chelsea (A) before the festive period.
They travel to Aston Villa two days before Christmas, then host fellow promoted side Luton Town on Boxing Day.
The Blades round off 2023 with a trip to the Etihad Stadium for their reverse clash against Man City on December 30.
Their opening fixture of the New Year will see West Ham United visit Bramall Lane before United travel to Selhurst Park on January 30 to face Crystal Palace.
Heckingbottom’s side will face Forest (H) and Everton (A) at the start of May before taking on Tottenham in their final fixture of the Premier League campaign.
Since taking over as permanent manager in November 2021, Heckingbottom has done an outstanding job at Bramall Lane.
The English head coach was initially appointed as a caretaker manager and oversaw United’s descent to the Championship in the 2020/21 campaign.
However, since replacing former Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic in the dugout, United have been on a steady rise under Heckingbottom’s guidance.
During his first full season in charge, he led the Blades to a Championship play-off spot after finishing 5th on the log. Unfortunately, they were eliminated by Forest in the semi-final.
Despite the club’s financial limitations, Heckingbottom has done well to get them back in the Premier League at the second time of asking.
However, it will be an uphill battle to keep United in the top flight next season. But the fans can dare to dream, having witnessed a significant on-field turnaround under Heckingbottom’s leadership thus far.
United’s well-documented financial turmoil has limited their transfer activity this summer, with just four new faces joining Heckingbottom’s squad.
So far, they have only spent around £11 million to sign Anis Ben Slimane, Yasser Larouci, Benie Traore, and Auston Trusty.
Larouci joined on a season-long loan and is expected to replace veteran full-back Enda Stevens, who joined Stoke City on a free transfer after five years with the Blades.
The 22-year-old left-back, who came up through the youth ranks at Liverpool, has significant top-flight experience after featuring 44 times in Ligue 1.
Slimane and Traore have also arrived from Brondby and Hacken, respectively. However, Trusty has been United’s most expensive signing thus far, with the Blades forking out £5m to land his signature.
Meanwhile, Illiman Ndiaye has been the headline departure this summer in a move that could severely dent United’s chances of survival.
The Senegalese international was at the forefront of the Blades’ success last season, scoring 14 goals and 11 assists in 46 Championship appearances.
While his departure will surely leave a mark, it could also be a blessing in disguise, with Olympique Marseille pouring around £20m into United’s account.
Man City duo Tommy Doyle and James McAtee have also left the club after their loan contracts expired.
Both players were vital to United last term, racking up a combined 12 goals and seven assists. The Blades will require replacements that can be as effective as the dynamic duo.
After eight years, 377 appearances, 129 goals and 44 assists, United legend Billy Sharp has also cut ties with the club this summer.
Last season, the 37-year-old only contributed two goals in 38 league games. But his experience, influence, and leadership in the locker room will surely be missed.
Sheffield will be relying on Wes Foderingham between the sticks once again following a hugely impressive campaign where he kept 17 clean sheets in 40 league games.
Heckingbottom has several options in defence, but we expect Anel Ahmedhodzic to line up alongside John Egan and Jack Robinson at the back.
Sander Berge and Oliver Norwood should anchor the midfield, with Max Lowe and George Baldock lining up as wing-backs.
With Ndiaye and McAtee leaving, United could switch to a two-striker system which will see Slimane line up behind Oliver McBurnie and Traore.
Here is our prediction for United’s strongest starting XI next season:
3-4-1-2: Foderingham; Robinson, Egan, Ahmedhodzic; Lowe, Berge, Norwood, Baldock; Slimane; McBurnie, Traore.
With Ndiaye gone, the spotlight will be on Berge this year following his eye-catching performances. The Blades resisted any urge to cash in on Berge in January, despite concrete interest from several clubs.
Although naturally a defensive midfielder, Berge has been deployed in several roles and contributed six goals and five assists in 37 Championship games last term.
He could make a difference for United this year and further showcase his talent to a number of clubs who are still monitoring his development at Bramall Lane.
Ahmedhodzic is also one to watch, with the 24-year-old grabbing six goals and two assists from centre-back last term.
United’s lack of action in the transfer market has left a lot to be desired about their chances of survival.
While making wholesale changes to a unified team can disrupt cohesion, they still need further reinforcements to strengthen their fighting chance.
United only have a few players that are proven at the Premier League level, and they risk entering the season with a vastly under-prepared squad.
With Heckingbottom at the helm, they can be cautiously optimistic about retaining their top-flight status.
But without more incoming transfers, we expect United to struggle with the step-up, and an immediate return to the Championship could be on the cards.
Predicted finish: 19th
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