RECENTLY-RELEGATED Sheffield United begin life back in the Championship with a clash against Birmingham at Bramall Lane on Saturday night. James Cantrill (@JimmyThePunt) shares his thoughts on the fixture.
Sheffield United vs Birmingham | Saturday 7th August 2021, 20:00 | Sky Sports
Sold out ground, floodlight pitch, new season, same dreams. It’s back and these sides certainly have every right to feel optimistic ahead of the 2021/22 Championship season.
The fact that the visitors have sold out their allocation, even though the game is on TV and there is no public transport back home after, perhaps best encapsulates just how much we have missed football. However, the Blues fans will not just be heading up to South Yorkshire for the day out.
When Lee Bowyer took charge at St Andrews the Blues sat in 21st in the table, one point above the relegation zone with a points per game average of 0.97. Bowyer oversaw the remaining ten games, they averaged 1.7 points per game and eventually finished nine points above the drop, cementing his firefighter status and tantalising the fans optimism for this season ahead.
Whilst Bowyer’s opposite number Slavisa Jokanovic certainly has all the credentials for this level- two promotions with two different sides- where these two supremo’s differ is in the momentum department.
Whilst the visitors have ample, Jokanovic’s English tenures rarely get off to the best starts, for example, Watford lost half of their first eight games under him. This is why I do not want to go near the Blades at the short prices available.
Instead, I like the look of Sander Berge’s anytime goalscorer price, Unibet have the best odds at 19/4. When the Norwegian signed for the Blades, he was sold the dream of European football, however, when COVID hit SUFC’s season quickly unrivalled and then performances fell off a cliff the following campaign.
This means that Berge now finds himself in the second tier of English football. Formerly at Genk, he is part of Norway’s golden generation and has played in the Champions League. Therefore, I’d have him pegged in the category of players too good for the league, it’s a similar situation to the one Emi Buendia found himself in.
Still only 23 years of age, he came to the UK and was not only thrust into a completely alien culture but forced to play a different role. With Norwood occupying the base of midfield, Berge was forced to play as a number eight, however, he quickly adapted.
I saw a glimpse of him in pre-season and it looks as though Jokanovic wants to utilise both his offensive and defensive ability in a more box-to-box role. This high-press that the Blades are trying to deploy should mean that Berge is often found high up the pitch and given his quality I think we will see him on the score sheet a lot more frequently this campaign given the drop down in level. Therefore, I think this price is worth pursuing at the start of the season.
Another intriguing aspect of this future will be the battle down the Blades left between the hosts left back Ben Osborn and Blues on-loan winger Tahith Chong.
Osborn, who is renowned for his versatility, filled in at left back in a pre-season friendly versus Doncaster and I expect him to do the same on opening day. Even though the ex-Forest man is not renowned for his ill-discipline – he has picked up 16 cards at this level – I fancy him to pick up a booking on Saturday evening and his price of 10/1 certainly appeals.
The Blades are expected to press relentlessly high tomorrow and I suspect this might leave Osborn vulnerable in transition. His opposite number, who is blessed with pace and trickery, drew 42 fouls in his last campaign and this translates to an average of one every 22 minutes played. Therefore, if Osborn does get caught slacking I suspect he will have to use illegal force.
Interestingly, Chong picked up two bookings last season and conceded 25 fouls in total, five in one game! Given his inexperience, I think chucking him to receive a card in a bet builder alongside Osborn – at 100/1 with 365 – is worthy of a small punt as well.