At the end of the 2018/19 EFL season, Norwich City and Sheffield United occupied the two automatic promotion places in the Championship. Sides making the leap into the Premier League are often expected to struggle in the following campaign but the two clubs are experiencing very different fortunes.
While Daniel Farke’s Norwich seem doomed for an automatic drop back into the second tier, Chris Wilder’s Blades are targeting a European campaign for 2020/21. So just why has this season been so different for the two promoted sides?
Norwich City finished as champions at the end of that 2018/19 campaign but when we look at your odds on Premier League relegation right now, the Canaries are the favourites to go down. Odds for Farke’s men start at around 1/9 and it’s surely only a matter of time before the drop is confirmed.
Aston Villa, Bournemouth, West Ham and Watford are also heavily backed in the relegation market but Sheffield United are essentially safe and out of the running. In contrast, the Blades are attracting more interest as one of the outside bets for a top six finish. After beating Norwich in early March, United occupied seventh place in the Premier League table and are aiming to emulate Wolves by qualifying for the Europa League at the first time of asking.
Whatever happens in the run-in, it’s been a remarkable story but how did Sheffield United upset the odds?
When Billy Sharp scored the winner against Norwich City at Bramall Lane on March 7th, he made a point of celebrating in front of the Canaries’ supporters. Sheffield United’s fans and players clearly haven’t forgotten that Norwich were promoted as champions ahead of the Blades but less than a year later, that trophy counts for very little.
As for the secret to United’s success, we can point to a mean defence that had conceded just 25 goals in 28 games. With the exception of league leaders Liverpool, that record is better than any other side in the division and if we’re looking for a key to a successful season, it’s right there. The Blades’ back line deserves immense credit and it’s no wonder that Dean Henderson is widely tipped for a first England cap in the not-too-distant future.
Compare and Contrast
Norwich City are not exactly packed with star names but they have a competent squad with some well-known players. Finnish international Teemu Pukki attracts the headlines with an impressive goal-scoring record at Carrow Road while promising youngsters Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis and Todd Cantwell are unlikely to remain at the club once relegation is confirmed.
At the back is the experienced goalkeeper Tim Krul so it may be fair to say that this squad is underachieving. In something of a contrast, many casual football fans may find it hard to name a single member of the Sheffield United starting XI. There are no stars and no egos at Bramall Lane, just a side with a strong team ethic and a manager who deserves a lot of credit, and it will be fascinating to see just how far they can go.