Sheffield United will have Ben Davies what-ifs but season has been about more than missing out on Liverpool's shock signing
The Reds have suffered badly through injury at the heart of their defence, losing talismanic leader Virgil van Dijk with a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury picked up in October's Merseyside derby.
That has been compounded by a serious injury to his partner, Joe Gomez, plus more minor issues for Joel Matip and even auxilliary centre-backs Fabinho and Jordan Henderson.
Without the same squad depth, it has only taken one serious injury to discombobulate the Blades defensively. Their overlapping wing-backs were such a key part of their success last season, so when Jack O'Connell picked up his own season-ending knee injury in October, it was as big a blow to them as van Dijk's was to Liverpool.
Coming with the transfer window still open, manager Chris Wilder targeted Davies as a potential replacement but with Preston demanding £10m, a deal for him or anyone else for that matter was impossible.
The Blades were back in the market for a left-sided central defender again this month, but given their perilous position at the bottom of the Premier League, not to mention the financial effects of Covid-19, only loans were possible. With Davies's Deepdale contract expiring at the end of the season, that made no sense to Preston.
Instead, Liverpool have jumped in at the last minute and paid £500k up front for the defender, in a deal that is worth up to £2m with add-ons. Sheffield United look set to go empty-handed this transfer window.
Without a signing, Wilder has tried Jack Robinson, Kean Bryan, wing-back Enda Stevens and Ethan Ampadu, the option he now looks settled on, to the left of John Egan in central defence. Phil Jagielka even played there in the dismal defeat at Southampton. None offer quite the same qualities O'Connell does. Few players can.
But the collapse in Sheffield United's form from European contenders last season to potentially being statistically the worst team in Premier League history – a fate they now look like avoiding – is down to the loss of more than one player, however important.
There have been other injuries too, most notably to Sander Berge, and the after-effects of Covid-19 are unclear either – we are not even completely sure which players caught it in the summer.
A side that was so settled last season has been chopped and changed around in far more than just the identity of the left-sided centre-back.
Oliver Norwood's form never seemed to recover from the first lockdown, John Lundtram has not been the same attacking midfield threat in the final season of his Bramall Lane contract. That it took the strikers, David McGoldrick apart, so long to get off the mark for the season, was damaging. That club record signing Rhian Brewster is still to score his first Premier League goal in his maiden season is even more so.
Aaron Ramsdale has had big gloves to fill replacing Dean Henderson in goal, and without the same presence behind them, the Blades have been alarmingly weak in their defending of set pieces.
When most of the defeats this season have been so narrow, the culmination of all these little factors have been telling.
So it would be wrong to rewrite history to say that everything would have been all right had the Blades only been able to sign Davies, but manager Wilder will certainly rue the fact he could not.
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