It might sound strange, given they enter tonight’s game at Burton Albion second in the Championship table and knowing a win will see them wrestle top spot from Wolverhampton Wanderers, but the most impressive aspect of Sheffield United’s season so far has been their ability to cope with defeat.
Yes, last month’s victory over Leeds was memorable. True, the manner in which Ipswich Town were dispatched two weeks earlier confirmed Chris Wilder’s side have the ability to grind-out results if required. But successes over the likes of Hull City, Barnsley and, of course, Sheffield Wednesday were arguably even more impressive. Not because they came in Yorkshire derbies. Rather the fact they all saw United recover from losses at the first attempt. Something which, particularly in the pressure cooker atmosphere of Hillsborough, spoke volumes about the attitude and approach of this United squad.
Getting beaten is never easy. But, to use a boxing analogy, journeymen fighters probably cope with it better than bright young contenders harbouring dreams of conquering the world. Winning is a habit and, when you are forced to kick it, life can become pretty damn tough. Particularly in a psychological sense.
Borussia Dortmund and United share very little in common other than the fact they represent areas built on heavy industry and play high-intensity, attacking football where the margin for error is painfully thin. The Germans, holders of eight Bundesliga titles, are one of the biggest names in Europe. United, despite honourable mentions from the likes of Xavier Hernández, Kyle Walker and Juan Sebastian Veron, are not. But both are used to winning with Wilder’s team accumulating 100 points en route to promotion last term and Die Schwarzgelben finishing outside of the top six only five times this century. Which is why recent events at the Westfalenstadion shed a favourable light on United’s achievements throughout the present campaign.
Peter Bosz’s men were five points clear at the top of the rankings a month-and-a-half ago and unbeaten in domestic competition. Now, having won only once in seven outings, they are six points behind leaders Bayern Munich and on the verge of being eliminated from their Champions League group.
Dortmund’s collapse and United’s powers of recovery will be attributed to guts. This, I think, is too simple an explanation because it ignores factors like organisation, physical conditioning and, albeit relatively speaking, the tactical acumen of their respective players given this mutual risk versus reward style. United, who have lost back to back league games only twice under Wilder’s stewardship, possess plenty of character. But it is their ability to compartmentalise, adhere to the well-worn cliché of taking one game at a time and every match on its merits, which has made them such a formidable proposition.