It had been twelve years since Sheffield United last played in the Premier League and Saturday’s game saw them hold the Cherries to a 1-1 draw in a tightly contested fixture.
It didn’t take long for the new boys to get going as they almost had a dream start to life in the Premier League. David McGoldrick sped away from the Bournemouth defence and tested the Cherries’ goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale with a powerful effort.
Both teams lined up with three at the back, which looked likely to create a game with plenty of chances, and moments after Ramsdale was called into action at one end, Ryan Fraser almost put it on a plate for Callum Wilson at the other, but his cross was too high.
The majority of the chances early on fell to the visitors who looked the most likely to make a breakthrough. Robinson had an effort at goal with a 25-yard drive, which was destined for the bottom corner before Ramsdale, at full stretch, got down to push it wide. Despite further chances from Lundstram and McGoldrick, the first half ended level with the newly-promoted side firmly on top.
But being the Premier League there is never a written script to a game and the home side pounced to take the lead with just their second effort on target. Ryan Fraser floated in a free-kick; it was pinball penalty area action as Dean Henderson parried a scuffed effort into the path of Chris Mepham who smashed in the rebound – heartbreak for United.
In the 88th minute the Blade’s resilience was eventually repaid. Much like the opener, chaos in the penalty area created a chance for the substitute Billy Sharp to snatch an equaliser with another scrappy goal – who else but the striker who began his career in Sheffield.
It wasn’t pretty at times but a tireless performance granted the new boys a well-earned point to kick-start their Premier League campaign.
An attacking trio to fear
Bournemouth played a 3-5-3 formation, which utilised their attacking threat of Fraser, Wilson and King. Last season saw these three flourish with an abundance of goals and assists between them but despite not contributing on Saturday, the signs were always there that when they click, they will be a force to reckon with.
Much like Liverpool’s infamous front three, Wilson, King and Fraser were constantly rotating the ball and moving from one side to another. Their combination of pace, dribbling and finesse saw them collectively reach 62 contributions last season – 33 goals and 29 assists. Liverpool, in comparison, had 79 contributions – 56 goals and 23 assists, and they almost won the League.
A battle of two goalkeepers
Both keepers, Dean Henderson and Aaron Ramsdale made inspired performances on their Premier League debuts. The young English goalkeepers made a catalogue of fantastic saves over the course of the match to keep their teams in the contest.
Ramsdale who is not necessarily Bournemouth’s first-choice keeper, got the nod to start over Begovic and Boruc and it’s fair to say that Eddie Howe made a good call in starting the 21-year-old, who looked sharp all game and distributed the ball well.
Henderson, who is on loan from Manchester United, was also outstanding and his impressive performance denied the hosts from increasing their lead. Philip Billing struck a fantastic shot from 25 yards which seemed destined for the back of the net. Somehow, Henderson managed to throw himself across the goal to get a hand on it and push it wide of the post – an incredible save from the youngster.
It’s great to see more young English goalkeepers establish themselves in the Premier League and there is quite a list: Pickford, Heaton, Mcarthy, Butland (formerly) and now Henderson and Ramsdale.
Sheffield United – who could be key in their Premier League return?
It was a fearless performance by the visitors who were the only newly promoted side to take points from their opening game. An excellent team performance from the Blades will only increase their confidence and belief going into the rest of the season. Lundstram, who plays as a wing-back in the 3-5-2 formation proved to be an attacking outlet going forward, but he also remained defensively solid when out of possession. Making runs from deep, Lundstram provided numerous crosses and chances, as he seems to have adapted well to the Premier League.
Henderson was solid throughout the game as he proved to be a calm head behind the three centre backs. Not only was his shot-stopping ability impressive, but at such a young age he seems able to dictate his defenders – which is really important for a keeper.
Strength and weaknesses of the Blades
Much has been said about how United will struggle to break down teams and score goals in the Premier League, which is fair enough now that they face some of the world’s most highly rated defenders. It’s also fair to say that United’s offensive firepower isn’t their best asset – last season they scored the fewest goals of all the promoted teams: Norwich scored 93, Villa 82 and Sheffield netted just 78. Having said this, since then they have added Oliver McBurnie, who scored 22 goals last year which will help bolster their attack.
Sheffield’s strength lies within their defence and on the flip side of things, the Blades conceded the least amount of goals of all the promoted sides last season. Much like when Burnley established themselves in the Premier League, Sean Dyche adopted a stubborn defensive style that many top teams found hard to break down.
It was clear how well organised the Blades were on Saturday, restricting the Cherries’ front three from scoring, they looked well organised and drilled. Defensive strength and discipline at the back could hold the key to Sheffield United’s Premier League survival this season.
Bournemouth’s defensive issues
On the contrary, Bournemouth seem to be fine with scoring goals at one end, but struggle to keep them out at the other. Last season saw the Cherries concede 70 goals which was more than the relegated Cardiff and the third most conceded in the league.
Over the summer, Bournemouth have strengthened at the back, signing Saturday’s opening goal scorer Chris Mepham for £12 million. But the problem lies much deeper and the absence of their captain and experienced centre back Simon Francis won’t help either. So some turbulent times could be on the horizon for the Cherries, especially when they host Man City in two weeks time.
Bournemouth’s next game sees them travel to Villa Park as they look to secure their first win of the season, whilst Sheffield United play host to Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace.