By 90Min
September 27, 2019

In 2019, Chris Wilder's Sheffield United were promoted to the Premier League, finishing second in the Championship behind Norwich City with 89 points.

The Canaries received widespread acclaim for their free-flowing football - and deservedly so. 

Daniel Farke's men scored 93 goals - 29 from man-of-the-moment Teemu Pukki - and reached 94 points with an attractive style of play - what's not to like? 

Jan Kruger/GettyImages

Well, very little actually, and this is far from a dismissal of Norwich and more of an acclaim of the south Yorkshire side. 


Sheffield United finished the campaign with the highest goal difference in the league - 37, pipping Norwich to the post. But whereas Norwich were the most free-scoring side in the division, United had the meanest defence. 


Their respective styles of play have filtered through to the first six fixtures of the Premier League season. Only six sides have scored more goals than Norwich and just two teams have conceded less than the Blades, who are level with Manchester City in that regard. 


Early days, of course, but the signs are there that United's well-organised defence and compact midfield will trouble Premier League opposition. 

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With a back three consisting of Jack O'Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham, protected by a midfield three of the vastly-improved John Lundstram, captain Oliver Norwood and John Fleck, there's very little space for the opposition between the lines.


Enda Stevens and George Baldock work tirelessly both in and out of possession as wing-backs, while a strike partnership consisting two of Oliver McBurnie, David McGoldrick and Callum Robinson are tasked with scoring the goals, in an all-British starting XI.


With the major strength of United established as its defence - also helped by the excellent Dean Henderson in between the sticks - it's up front where potential problems could arise, with no proven goalscorers at Premier League level in the squad.

McBurnie and Robinson have just one goal each, with back up forwards Lys Mousset and Billy Sharp also chipping in with one apiece. The Blades need more. 


Nevertheless, a look at underlying stats show that there are five teams who have fewer expected goals in the opening fixtures. The wing backs and the likes of Lundstram are creating enough chances, they just need their strikers to be more prolific.


Norwich, of course, have the opposite issue, with Pukki as clinical as they come at the moment.


The Canaries do, however, only have a slightly higher amount of expected goals, demonstrating that they will have to rely on Pukki to be in the form of his life to sustain their current attacking prowess.

Nathan Stirk/GettyImages

What is not unsustainable, however, is the rate at which Norwich are conceding goals. 


They have the third highest expected goals conceded - behind only Watford and Bournemouth - showing that the opposition aren't getting lucky or unlikely goals against them, but carving out clear chances.


Norwich have had tough fixtures, having already played Liverpool, Chelsea and City, and should recover some defenders in the near future, with their backline decimated by injuries currently. 


As things stand, however, United seem to have better balance. A stubborn defence with strikers who need to be more clinical versus a leaky defence that is relying on a man in the form of his career.

Teemu Pukki

That's not to say that Norwich cannot improve creatively - they certainly can - but creating chances is more difficult for a team to improve on than a striker converting his chances, which requires refinement from just one individual.


Aston Villa, on the other hand, seem to have a problem in both boxes - lacking goals while not being the greatest of defensive teams.


Unfortunately for the Villans, they seem the most unlikely of the promoted clubs to survive.

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