Sheffield United, Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham United, and Doncaster Rovers
After the highs and lows of an action packed Euro 2020, the club season is back and so are the fans. Josh Zealand gives the lowdown on each South Yorkshire club’s chances this season.
Chris Wilder’s five-year reign as Sheffield United manager ended in March, where he left the club bottom of the Premier League with 14 points from 28 games and destined for the Championship once again.
Wilder had taken his beloved Blades on an incredible journey, from 11th in League One to 9th in the Premier League just four years later. However, the future is still full of excitement for Sheffield United fans, and this is only just beginning.
Slavisa Jokanovic has joined the red and white of the Steel City. The Serbian joins with an exciting CV, achieving promotion with both Watford and Fulham to the Premier League in his previous time in England. Not bad to say the least!
The Serb can be successful at Bramall Lane, and vitally needs to hang onto key players such as England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and Norwegian midfielder Sander Berge who can be world beaters at this level. The famous overlapping centre back style of Chris Wilder may change, but I am sure the attacking belief will not. Jokanovic is known for playing exciting, vibrant attacking football and so Blades fans could be in for quite the treat.
If the Serbian can get his forwards firing and his tactics in place, Sheffield United may just thrill the Championship once again and put themselves back in contention for a spot in the Premier League.
Barnsley achieved 5th place last season in the championship, their highest finish since 1990-2000 campaign. They narrowly missed out on a chance to play in the topflight, losing in the semi-finals of the EFL playoffs to eventual runners-up, Swansea City.
After only just avoiding relegation on the final day of the previous term, the Red’s extraordinary upturn was a perfect example of what a low-budgeted club can achieve in the English Football League and a model for other clubs attempting to reach the same goals.
However, Barnsley’s manager Valérien Ismaël, who took them to such great heights, has since departed the club. Himself, along with leading Barnsley captain Alex Mowatt, have been signed at West Bromwich Albion. This could be a major blow for the Red’s, but the board will be hoping they’ve found their next star manager in Austrian Markus Schopp.
Schopp has made a name for himself in the Austrian league, creating a reputation for developing young and emerging talent into first team professionals. Even without Mowatt, Barnsley still have the core squad from last season which reached the playoffs, which they will be hoping to build on.
Can Schopp take them one step further?
After a disastrous relegation from the Championship, there has been a revamp at S6 this summer. 13 players have departed Sheffield Wednesday on free transfers, including the Wednesday legends of Tom Lees, Keiren Westwood and Adam Reach. Another matter to solve is that Dejphon Chansiri is still chairmen of the Owls, and the financial situation is still a mystery to all.
Despite this, they have made decent acquisitions, the return of defender Jack Hunt solidifying a new League One defence. Bailey Peacock-Farrell, a goalkeeper with Premier League experience, has joined on a season-long loan from Burnley and Lewis Wing has joined on loan from Middlesbrough. Wing has the natural ability and clever vision to break apart League One defences, providing a vital spark that might just see the Owls pushing for promotion.
In attack, Scotsman Callumn Patterson remains at the forefront along with creative forward Josh Windass. However, Windass will miss the opening of the season due to injuries. Wednesday have good options on the wings too with Olamide Shadipo and Andre Green providing plenty of pace and product out wide.
Though individuals don’t make a team, and a persistent lack of stability and inconsistency may just weaken the hopes of an immediate return to the Championship for Sheffield Wednesday.
In his four seasons in management, Paul Warne has achieved two promotions as well as two relegations and Rotherham are now in trouble of becoming a somewhat ‘yo-yo’ club. Rotherham fans will argue that without their COVID crisis in March last season, which led to a crazy rescheduling of their fixture list, they might have avoided relegation back to League One.
The low-budgeted Millers went down narrowly on the final day, conceding an equaliser against Cardiff in the 89th minute. Without that, Rotherham would be a Championship club this season.
The Millers are reliant on star forward Michael Smith, whose combination with Matt Crookes amounted to almost keeping them up last year. Unfortunately for them, Matt Crookes has since signed for Middlesbrough and so Rotherham will need to rely on other creative outlets to help them push for promotion this season.
Paul Warne, the former fitness coach, stresses the importance of the physical endurance and stamina of his players, but perhaps too much sometimes. Notably this happened in their fixture backlog, losing points against key teams around them in their relegation fight.
The Millers should have a side capable of making a promotion place. Let’s not forget, they are known for doing well at Wembley through the playoffs. Can they do it once more?
Doncaster hired Richie Wellens as boss back in May, an exciting young coach who has the potential to get them competing at the top of League One.
Wellens led Swindon to the League Two title in the 2019-20 season, and so his lower league experience may come in handy when trying to get Doncaster Rovers back to where they want to be.
After inheriting a squad low on depth, the new boss is having a busy summer transfer window at Rovers. With a low budget, he must get his best use out of the loan market. Though it won’t be too sustainable in helping them build for the future, it may help them build for the now and push into the playoffs, a step they couldn’t achieve last season.
Doncaster comes with a solid back four unit, dynamic right back Kyle Knoyle, Physical defender Cameron John, captain Tom Anderson and left sided Tommy Rowe. Wellens has a good back four to build on, and along with pacey attackers Jordy Hiwula, Fejiri Okenabirhie, and target man Omar Bogle, they could be a threat this season.
Doncaster desperately need consistency and a depth to take them close to their targets this season.