Sheffield United have dropped back into the Championship with six matches to spare in a miserable Premier League campaign.
Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers sealed their fate.
The Blades were one of the feel-good stories of the 2019-20 season, beating the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur to consolidate a top-half finish among England’s elite. But the tenacity and inventiveness faded from their play in spectator-free stadiums, and interim manager Paul Heckingbottom – who succeeded Chris Wilder in March – is now left to oversee a forlorn finish to one of the worst top-flight terms in recent memory.
But just how bad have the Blades been compared to the statistically worst sides to compete in the Premier League?
5. Aston Villa, 2015-16
Goal difference: minus-49
Top scorer: Jordan Ayew (seven goals)
Heaviest defeat: 6-0 to Liverpool
The names of Aston Villa’s two full-time managers in this season – Tim Sherwood and Remi Garde – offer a decent idea of what went wrong. The fact they lost Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph in the summer transfer window shouldn’t be forgotten, either. The team was still good on paper, though, with Jack Grealish making his name in the Premier League alongside Idrissa Gueye and Adama Traore.
4. Huddersfield Town, 2018-19
Goal difference: minus-54
Top scorer: Karlan Grant (four goals)
Heaviest defeat: 6-1 to Manchester City
David Wagner was a hipster’s favorite after guiding Huddersfield from the bottom half of the Championship and keeping them in the Premier League. But the goals dried up and individual errors were often punished in the Terriers’ second season, prompting Wagner’s emotional farewell in January 2019. The side took six of its 16 points from Wolves, who finished seventh.
3. Sunderland, 2005-06
Goal difference: minus-43
Top scorers: Liam Lawrence, Anthony Le Tallec, Tommy Miller, Dean Whitehead (three goals)
Heaviest defeats: 4-1 to Portsmouth and Newcastle United
The feisty dressing-room atmosphere cultivated by Mick McCarthy seemed to disintegrate after some poor transfer business in the summer of 2005. The most successful alumnus from this squad was Rory Delap – whose torpedo-like long throw-ins made him a cult hero at Stoke City – which indicates how little quality there was in this generation at Sunderland.
2. Sheffield United, 2020-21
Points: 14 with six matches left to play
Goal difference: minus-39
Top scorer: David McGoldrick (six goals)
Heaviest defeat: 5-0 to Leicester City
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s gone wrong for Sheffield United. Aaron Ramsdale was a downgrade on Dean Henderson between the sticks, but an overall lack of belief has hindered each position in turn. Injuries have definitely been a factor, with Jack O’Connell, Sander Berge, George Baldock, and Enda Stevens all missing plenty of matches.
1. Derby County, 2007-08
Goal difference: minus-69
Top scorer: Kenny Miller (four goals)
Heaviest defeats: 6-0 to Liverpool and Aston Villa
Miller’s spectacular long-range smash on his debut was meant to belatedly kick-start Derby’s season in mid-September. Instead, that 1-0 win over Newcastle was as good as it got. A campaign that began with Billy Davies as manager and ended with Paul Jewell at the helm ended as early as March 29, 2008, when a 2-2 home draw with Fulham confirmed the Rams’ descent.