Sheffield United has a realistic chance of playing in the UEFA Europa League next season and even the Champions League is not out of the question. That statement would’ve been shocking before the start of the current campaign, but it’s the reality right now.
The manager Chris Wilder and his men have exceeded all expectations and currently sit in the fight place of the English Premier League. After beating Bournemouth on Saturday, the team is only 2 points behind Chelsea and a place in the European competitions next season is on the cards.
That would be a remarkable achievement for the club, but I’m not sure that Sheffield United is ready for that step. Let me tell you why.
Playing on Two Fronts Is Devastating
The competition in the English Premier League is fierce. This is the most rewarding domestic league in the world from a financial perspective and one of the most demanding in terms of pace.
The struggle is real for all clubs that don’t have the resources of the top 7-8 teams. Sides like Sheffield United need to work relentlessly to keep their place in the league.
There’s no guarantee that one or even several good seasons won’t be followed by a slump in the next one. Just look at Bournemouth, West Ham and Watford this season. All three were expected to comfortably finish in the middle of the table, but are fighting against relegation instead.
The first two of them can blame the large number of injuries. Both the Cherries and the Hammers have suffered plenty of health issues and that shows how the depth of your squad gets stretched every single year.
Just imagine how bad it gets when you add six more games in the autumn, at the very least. The manager will have to figure out how to stay somewhat competitive in Europe and keep his main players fresh.
That usually affects the results not only early in the season, but also in the dying stages. The players accumulate a lot of fatigue and barely make it through the finish line.
Examples from the Past and the Present
The last several years saw various examples of why the distraction of Europe can be devastating. The first club that springs to mind is Burnley.
The team finished in the seventh position of the English Premier League in the 2017-18 season. That was enough for a place in Europe League in the next campaign.
Burnley even had to go through the qualifiers in July. That affected the team’s summer preparations and the tough schedule put Sean Dyche in a difficukt position. The club was in the bottom three for most of the season and only a strong run in the spring helped the side avoid relegation.
Another more recent example is Wolverhampton Wanderers. The club invested a lot of money in the previous two summers and Nuno Espirito Santo is doing an exceptional job as a manager.
However, the Wolves had an awful start of this campaign and the first two months or so were ruined. Despite the depth of the squad, Wolverhampton was struggling to cope with playing twice a week and the side improved only when the Europa League break started.
It remains to be seen what will happen when the tournament returns later this month and towards the end of the season.
I’m sure that the Sheffield United supporters and players will be thrilled to qualify for the UEFA competitions, but it might too much too soon. I like the club a lot and for the sake of the future, I would prefer to see it finish just below the positions that provide a quota for the Europa League.
That would give Chris Wilder the opportunity to slowly expand his squad and achieve sustainable success in the English Premier League. If that goes well, the next step will naturally come.