A top-five finish could be enough to secure a place in next season’s Champions League, so Wednesday night’s clash between Manchester United and Sheffield United is a huge one for both clubs.
READ MORE: Get more Premier League tips for the coming days.
Sheffield United have never had a seat at the top table of European football so it goes without saying that the run-in is huge for the South Yorkshire club, but they have stumbled badly since returning to action and are threatening to throw away all of their hard work during the first several months of the season.
The Blades had the ‘honour’ of restarting the Premier League when they visited Aston Villa a week ago, and they went into that match knowing that a victory in their game-in-hand over Manchester United would propel them into the top five. They were forced to settle for a share of the spoils as the game ended goalless, but Manchester United’s draw at Tottenham Hotspur 48 hours later gave them a reprieve and another opportunity to hit the top five when they played their newest game-in-hand over the Red Devils on Sunday. They blew it.
The 50th minute dismissal of John Egan proved to be the catalyst for a second-half collapse that resulted in Sheffield United’s first Premier League defeat since the narrow 1-0 loss to Manchester City on January 21. The Magpies rattled in three goals in the space of 23 minutes to run away with it so not only did they once again fail to leapfrog Manchester United in the table, they also allowed Wolves to edge ahead of them courtesy of a win at West Ham United. That means the pressure is firmly on the blunt Blades to get back on track, and the pressure is only increased by the fact that their next match sees them visit top-five rivals Manchester United.
The Red Devils were a team in strong form when the 2019/20 Premier League season was put on pause, and although they hardly made a blistering return to action last week they did come away from North London with a point thanks to Bruno Fernandes’ coolly taken penalty late on against Spurs. The 1-1 stalemate made it 12 games without loss for Manchester United in all competitions, and they have now taken 12 points from their last six Premier League outings to maintain their grip on fifth place. They do have Wolves and Sheffield United breathing down their necks though, so this home meeting with the Blades has to be considered a ‘must-win’ outing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. But can they win it?
This is genuinely a tough one to call despite the bookmakers installing Manchester United as the odds-on favourites. The Red Devils may boast one of the better home records in the top flight, but it is hardly an unblemished one with five draws and two defeats coming in the 15 Premier League fixtures that have taken place at Old Trafford this season. Those losses hardly came against elite opposition either – Crystal Palace and Burnley are the two clubs that have departed the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ with all three points in the bag. Therefore Sheffield United have to believe that they can take something from this match and despite their poor results so far, I believe they can.
It will not be all three points though. These two clubs have combined for 21 Premier League draws so far this season, and they boast two of the meanest defences in the league with only Liverpool conceding less goals than Sheffield United and only three clubs conceding less than United. It is at the other end where they have both had problems – neither have been free-scoring. Everything points to this being a low-scoring encounter and given that a draw would not be a terrible result for Sheffield United I expect them to set their stall out to contain and frustrate their esteemed hosts. They are capable of doing just that so a share of the points is not out of the question.