Wolverhampton Wanderers scored twice in the first six minutes as they made a winning start to the new Premier League season with victory at Sheffield United.
Both sides had enjoyed hugely impressive campaigns last term, with the Blades upsetting the odds to finish ninth on their return to the top flight, while Wolves secured seventh and reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
But it was Nuno Espirito Santo’s side who picked up where they left off as Raul Jimenez’s excellent finish gave them a third-minute lead following a quick break.
Sheffield United barely had time to recover from that early blow before Wolves added a second three minutes later, this time Romain Saiss rising unmarked to guide a header beyond Blades debutant Aaron Ramsdale.
The home side looked sluggish and struggled to create many meaningful chances in the first half, with their first shot on target not arriving until seven minutes before the half-time, when Oli McBurnie headed at Rui Patricio.
A half-time team talk by Chris Wilder had the desired impact as United came out flying in the second half, with John Fleck striking the base of the post with a powerful low drive before John Lundstram just failed to get to a teasing Billy Sharp cross.
However, only a superb Ramsdale save denied Wolves a third on the break as the 22-year-old – an £18m summer signing from Bournemouth – pushed a Saiss strike on to the post before Jimenez shot wide from the rebound.
Jimenez then struck the outside of the post and although the Blades pushed to reduce the deficit in the final few minutes Wolves held firm to secure an opening win.
Wolves make flying start, despite lack of pre-season
Wolves’ performances both domestically and in Europe last season were all the more impressive considering the sheer volume of games they played as a result of their Europa League commitments.
Their campaign started in July last year and ended last month – more than 60 games later – as they reached the last eight of Europe’s second-tier club competition – losing to eventual winners Sevilla.
The late finish to a season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic meant Wolves have not had time to squeeze in any friendlies before the start of the new campaign.
But despite the lack of preparation they showed no signs of rustiness and they were at their clinical best from the outset, scoring from their first two chances of the game.
Jimenez showed great composure to let a cross run across his body before finishing and then Saiss placed a header beyond the reach of Ramsdale in the Blades’ goal.
The lack of preparation for the new campaign perhaps showed as they saw less of the ball in the second half, although they did still have the better chances on the break.
A tale of two halves for rusty Blades
It would be very premature to suggest this defeat is an indicator of Sheffield United being destined to fall foul of ‘second-season syndrome’ but there will be some causes for concern for Blades boss Wilder.
Despite playing four pre-season friendlies compared to Wolves’ none it was the hosts who looked short of sharpness in the first half.
They were slow to build attacks and lacked bite in the final third, while their defence – the backbone of their impressive campaign last season – was well below par.
But they were much improved after the break as they pressed Wolves high, while the overlapping runs from defence that were utilised to deadly effect last season were also more prominent.
A significant portion of Sheffield United’s summer spending went on Ramsdale, who showed that he should be a more than capable replacement for Dean Henderson – returned to parent club Manchester United – with his superb second-half save from Saiss.
Otherwise Wilder has, so far, invested in promising youth rather than making wholesale changes to his squad in pre-season, and while his side’s first-half display will have left him wondering whether that decision was justified, the second-half performance will give him hope that the Blades can once again upset the odds this season.
Man of the match – Raul Jimenez
The second round of the Carabao Cup is up next for both sides as Sheffield United travel to Premier League rivals Burnley on Thursday, 17 September (17:30 BST), while Wolves host Championship side Stoke later on the same day (19:00 BST).
- 6BashamSubstituted forMcGoldrickat 71′minutes
- 12EganBooked at 33mins
- 16NorwoodSubstituted forBergeat 76′minutes
- 9McBurnieBooked at 39mins
- 11Rui Patrício
- 28João MoutinhoSubstituted forMachado Ferreiraat 86′minutes
- 5Marçal de OliveiraBooked at 90mins
- 10Castelo PodenceSubstituted forNevesat 76′minutes
- 7NetoSubstituted forBuurat 69′minutes
- 17Soares Silva
- 20Machado Ferreira
Match ends, Sheffield United 0, Wolverhampton Wanderers 2.
Second Half ends, Sheffield United 0, Wolverhampton Wanderers 2.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Rúben Neves.
Attempt missed. Oliver McBurnie (Sheffield United) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by John Fleck with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Conor Coady.
George Baldock (Sheffield United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Adama Traoré (Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Attempt blocked. Oliver McBurnie (Sheffield United) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Sander Berge with a cross.
Marçal (Wolverhampton Wanderers) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Corner, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Conceded by Jack O’Connell.
Attempt blocked. Adama Traoré (Wolverhampton Wanderers) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Rúben Neves.
Attempt missed. John Egan (Sheffield United) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by John Fleck with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Romain Saïss.
Corner, Sheffield United. Conceded by Marçal.
Substitution, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Vitinha replaces João Moutinho.
Raúl Jiménez (Wolverhampton Wanderers) hits the right post with a header from the right side of the six yard box. Assisted by João Moutinho with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Conceded by Jack O’Connell.
Attempt blocked. Adama Traoré (Wolverhampton Wanderers) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Foul by George Baldock (Sheffield United).
Marçal (Wolverhampton Wanderers) wins a free kick on the left wing.