Saturday, 4 August 2018

Countdown to Kick Off

Had Meet Her at the Love Parade in my head all week.  To most people who know me that aren't Blades fans and know my taste in music, the fact I have a 20 year old electro house track in my head might come as a surprise. But for me the tune can only mean one thing......countdown to kick off.

There's a sense of anticipation and excitement building, excitement that the extra 145 minutes we have to wait from 3pm might just be able to contain. There is a sense of positivity and confidence about the season ahead. There's a fine line that is often straddled to over confidence, we only have to cast eyes across the city to see past evidence of that. 

I've answered questions for When Saturday Comes and World Soccer's Football 2019 season preview magazines. For the former I had to put all 24 Championship teams in the position I thought they would end up in. I went for 10th, where we ended up last season.

For me, we have a much stronger squad than 12 months ago. There is competition for places in most positions and the depth of the squad is much better, despite the loss of the most prodigious talent I've seen at the Lane in my lifetime. And we still haven't touched his sale proceeds.

With Coutts to come back into the reckoning and Leonard only having played a limited role pre-season the selection  decisions are only going to get harder as the season progresses. Wilder makes great play on the unity of the squad and management. His recruitment decisions focusing on maintaining that happy equilibrium as much as the player's talents and financial cost. He is also quick to move players on that don't feature or don't work out, ensuring group spirit isn't affected negatively. 

In fact the only negative relates to issues a level above. The boardroom shenanigans are well documented. The only reassuring aspects being that Wilder felt confident in the assurances he received to sign the contract extension and that's evidenced in the quality of transfer dealings to date. In addition, we have garnered a reputation for development of young players that means players like Kean Bryan see us as a club of choice and Mourinho and Klopp trust us to help their best young talent flourish.

Maybe my mood is enhanced by events across the city. Having had their snipes for several years, you'd have thought last season would have been a timely reminder for them  of how quickly the balance shifts in the city of football. I'm too conservative and cautious to get over excited, as I know it can just as easily swing back, often when everything else that's happening suggests otherwise.

Chris Wilder, in an interview with James Shield of The Star said; 

"We're not a boom and bust club. We just want to keep improving and keep knocking on the door. I know our fans don't see it as being 'this is our year or we're doomed.' The big thing is the club keeps developing and that we don't put ourselves in the situation some clubs do. We just want to keep developing."

These words strike a chord. We feel like a progressive club, boardroom disagreements aside. So why am I not predicting a higher finish than last season, when I see us as progressive and stronger and with the best manager in the division and our best manager since Dave Bassett? 

One, it feels a tougher division, based on the clubs coming down and a couple of those stepping up. Things can still change and as transfers and loans continue for another week there could be further departures at some of the relegated clubs, but sometimes you have to step up your levels just to maintain a status quo and that is how it feels at present and it is only going to get more difficult with the riches of the Premier League and parachute payments.

Secondly, I think we are probably a striker short. The contribution of Clarke and Sharp was probably beyond expectations and although the latter ranked high in the leading goalscorer rankings, his goals were in fits and starts and only scored 5 from early December onwards. They're a year older and although David McGoldrick has contributed well in pre-season, we still lack an alternative, sharper option. We know Wilder is trying to address this, with reported interest in Waghorn, but if that falls through you wouldn't put it past him to pull off a surprise coup.

Get that recruitment right and it could be the difference between a mid-table/top half finish and a push for a play off spot. And if we got there......well our luck is going to have to change at some point.....isn't it?

I have also answered questions on the season ahead for a Championship preview for Brentford site Beesotted. You can read it here.

Remember, if you are otherwise indisposed on a matchday (working, on holiday, ill, or just have a stadium ban), our short Game by Game reports will follow most games. Factual, some opinion and a bit of fun.

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