After coming close to securing European football last season, Sheffield United have suffered relegation back to the Championship this time around.
The Blades thoroughly enjoyed their first Premier League campaign since 2006/07, finishing ninth with 54 points, just five adrift of Tottenham in sixth, with Chris Wilder’s reputation growing exponentially as a result. But 2020/21 has been a miserable slog. Wilder is gone and Sheffield United are bottom of the table with just four wins and 14 points from 32 games, with their relegation confirmed with a recent 1-0 loss to Wolves, their fifth consecutive league defeat.
Prior to this year’s disappointment, Sheffield United achieved two promotions in three years under the former Oxford and Northampton coach Wilder.
On top of the two promotions achieved in three years, Wilder oversaw positive results against some of England’s biggest clubs last season. The Blades drew with Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, while also claiming the scalp of Arsenal.
This came despite the topsy-turvy decade the Blades have endured, dropping as low as League One while seeing a number of hugely talented players pass through the club — such as current Manchester United captain Harry Maguire.
Given their struggles this season, there must be many Sheffield United fans who wish they had managed to keep hold of Maguire along with the various stars they have had to let go.
With that, we’ve put together an XI of the best former Sheff Utd players still knocking around to see how they compare to the current crop. It’s quite an impressive line-up, but would they stand a chance against the current Blades? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook.
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Current club: Manchester United
Sheffield Utd apps: 86
Dean Henderson is now a full England international with over 20 appearances under his belt for Manchester United this season, competing directly for the No.1 spot with David de Gea. But it was during a two-season loan spell at Bramhall Lane between 2018 and 2020 where he really cut his teeth.
Henderson won the Championship Golden Glove in 2018/19, keeping 20 clean sheets as the Blades finished second to Norwich City, earning promotion to the top-flight. Then, the 24-year-old kept 13 clean sheets during the 2019/20 Premier League campaign, with only Ederson (16) and Nick Pope (15) keeping more.
Though he only has one cap for England right now, Henderson certainly feels like the long-term option between the sticks for the Three Lions, as well as Manchester United.
Centre-back: Gary Cahill
Current club: Crystal Palace
Sheffield Utd apps: 16
Many will be unaware two-time Premier League winner Gary Cahill spent a short spell on loan at Sheffield United in the 2007/08 Championship season. The centre-back joined the Blades on a three-month deal from Aston Villa in the first half of the campaign.
He then left Villa permanently for Bolton Wanderers in the January 2008 transfer window. At Bolton, he would go on to become one of England’s most highly-rated defenders, and his form eventually earned him a big-money move to Chelsea. He is now at Crystal Palace having left the Blues in 2019 and is a key member of Roy Hodgson’s team.
Centre-back: Kyle Bartley
Current club: West Brom
Sheffield Utd apps: 37
The Arsenal academy graduate took his first steps in professional football at Bramall Lane, enjoying two separate loan spells in South Yorkshire during his formative years. He didn’t quite make the grade in north London and eventually left for Swansea before relocating to West Brom in 2018, where he went on to establish an authoritative role in the heart of the Baggies’ backline and proved key to Slaven Bilic and the club’s promotion push from the Championship. Sam Allardyce is now in charge at the Hawthorns but Bartley continues to command a regular starting spot.
Centre-back: Harry Maguire
Current club: Manchester United
Sheffield Utd apps: 166
Harry Maguire has enjoyed an astonishing rise in stature since signing for Leicester in the summer of 2017, becoming a favourite among England fans in the 2018 World Cup and earning a move to Manchester United.
The Sheffield-born centre-back rose through the ranks at his boyhood club and was eventually tempted away by the proposal of Premier League football at Hull City. Since then, he has gone from strength to strength, but Sheffield United fans – and perhaps Maguire himself – will be dreaming of a reunion later in his career.
Right wing-back: Kyle Walker
Current club: Manchester City
Sheffield Utd apps: 35
Now a two-time Premier League winner (soon to be three) with Manchester City thanks to a string of scintillating displays on the right flank, Kyle Walker was once a young centre-back trying to break into the Sheffield United team.
His efforts saw Tottenham swoop and loan him back to Bramall Lane, where he played 26 times in the 2009/10 Championship campaign. Further loans with QPR and Aston Villa followed before he became a Spurs regular, and the rest is history. Like Maguire, Walker still attends his former club’s games when possible.
Central midfield: Conor Coady
Current club: Wolves
Sheffield Utd apps: 50
The Wolves skipper has firmly found his home in Nuno Espirito Santo’s three-pronged defensive line, but before confirming his centre-back status, the Liverpudlian was proving his worth as a competent midfield enforcer, a role in which he flourished during a brief Sheffield sojourn.
During the 2013/14 season, Coady spent his time on loan from Liverpool at Bramall Lane, where he amassed 50 appearances in all competitions. The versatile midfielder was tasked with protecting a rearguard that included Maguire, and that is exactly his role in this XI.
Central midfield: David Brooks
Current club: Bournemouth
Sheffield Utd apps: 37
David Brooks was cited as one of the Premier League’s signings of the season in 2018/19 by fans and pundits alike. The Wales international has been excellent for Bournemouth since arriving on the south coast from Sheffield United in 2018, though injuries have hampered his progress more recently.
Brooks quickly became a regular at Bramall Lane in the 2017/18 season, making 33 appearances and scoring three goals from central midfield in the Championship. He bettered that tally in his debut top-flight campaign, scoring seven goals in 30 matches for the Cherries. At just 23, Brooks has a bright future ahead of him.
Left wing-back: Matthew Lowton
Current club: Burnley
Sheffield Utd apps: 89
He would have to shift across the pitch to the left flank, but Lowton has showcased an aptitude to perform at the highest level and would surely have no problem functioning in unfamiliar territory. The 31-year-old emerged from Sheff Utd’s academy and made just shy of 100 appearances for the club before moving to Aston Villa in 2012. Since then he has been a near ever-present in the Premier League and proven a competent outlet for Sean Dyche at Burnley.
Forward: Che Adams
Current club: Southampton
Sheffield Utd apps: 55
Che Adams was one of Sheffield United’s shining lights in League One, but the team’s failure to achieve promotion to the Championship in 2015/16 saw him move to Birmingham City in the summer of 2016.
The 24-year-old gradually became one of the second division’s most lethal strikers, scoring 22 goals in the 2018/19 season, earning him a move to the Premier League with Southampton, where he remains today.
Forward: Matt Phillips
Current club: West Brom
Sheffield Utd apps: 7
It was quite the season for Phillips in 2011/12. With chances at Blackpool limited under Ian Holloway following their relegation from the Premier League, Phillips relocated to Bramall Lane on loan. The threatening forward was simply devastating in League One, scoring five goals in six games before returning to Bloomfield Road that same season and producing some talismanic performances to help guide Blackpool to the Championship play-off final.
He started in the showpiece event at Wembley against West Ham and assisted Tom Ince in the club’s equalising goal, but squandered two glorious chances as Allardyce’s Hammers netted a late winner to seal promotion. But he did help West Brom to promotion last term.
Forward: Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Current club: Everton
Sheffield Utd apps: 12
Dominic Calvert-Lewin didn’t score a single goal in his 12 appearances for Sheffield United, but his energetic displays for someone so young tempted Everton to take him to Merseyside in the summer of 2016.
After putting in a number of mature and hard-working performances for Everton, Calvert-Lewin has finally found goals. The 24-year-old has netted 34 goals in 73 appearances across all competitions over the last two seasons and has shone under Carlo Ancelotti. That form has been enough to earn his place in the senior England squad, and Calvert-Lewin already has four goals in just seven caps for the Three Lions.