Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder taking questions in the lead up to tonight’s game. (@SheffieldUnited on Twitter)
In the lead up to tonight’s Premier League game against West Ham, Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder made it clear – if there is any chance for the Blades to turn their season around, an exceptional run of form in the league needs to happen sooner rather than later.
“We cannot sugarcoat anything” Wilder said.
“We really have to play well and hit top form towards the end of the season.”
“The players understand it, we’ve got to win games of football and we’ve got to win them soon. We have to win games now.”
It has been a challenging campaign for Sheffield United, having won only three of their 23 games in the Premier League, suffering injury setbacks and being without staunch support at Bramall Lane. Tonight, they travel to the London Stadium to play against an on form West Ham team, who under David Moyes have completely changed their fortunes.
There is a compelling contrast between these two teams when comparing this season to last. The Blades are almost exactly in the same position as West Ham were this time last year. On 15 February 2020, Sheffield United had played 26 games and sat in 5th place on 39 points, 2 points behind Chelsea. This season, West Ham have played 23, are on 39 points and level with Chelsea who are in 5th.
Wilder sang the Hammers’ praises during his press conference on Saturday morning, making reference to how the Irons’ season shares a host of similarities with their campaign from 2019 to 2020. The Blades boss said: “This is an experienced, established Premier League side.”
“I know they’ve got a few injury issues for Monday night but generally their players have been on form and kept fit. That’s a familiar story isn’t it?”
One of those on form players is Tomas Soucek. The 25 year-old has been a starlet for West Ham since his move from Slavia Prague, scoring 8 goals from a defensive midfield position.
Another is Jesse Lingard, one of Sheffield United’s transfer targets in January. He scored a brace on his debut against Aston Villa, and if Chris Wilder was watching that game, he’ll be frustrated he couldn’t get the Englishman’s signature.
Despite West Ham’s strengths, the belief from the Sheffield United camp seems to be there. Throw in the wild unpredictability of the Premier League, at the moment coupled with a good run in the FA cup, it becomes difficult to make any straightforward predictions.
The Blades’ 3-2 win against Bristol Rovers in the third round of the FA cup was the catalyst for their first Premier League win of the season against Newcastle three days later. Inspired by those performances, they went on to defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford and have continued their impressive cup form, leading to a quarter-final draw against Chelsea.
But despite their decent cup run, Sheffield United have lost 11 of their 13 away matches in the league this season, and have failed to score in 5 of their last 7 away fixtures.
The reality is that Sheffield United’s front-line have not been up to scratch. David McGoldrick is their top scorer with 5 goals, while £23 million signing Rhian Brewster is yet to prove worth his price tag, having failed to score in 18 Premier League appearances.
The stats may not make pleasant reading for Blades fans heading into tonight’s game, but they can take something away from the reverse fixture.
In November, the only difference at Bramall Lane was a Sebastian Haller goal from outside of the box. The Frenchman struck a fine finish after a clearance from Aaron Ramsdale went unopposed in the middle of the pitch. The last time these two teams met highlights these fine margins for Sheffield United in the Premier League this season. It shows the close-knit nature of their results.
If the Blades are to put a run together and collect those much needed points, they need to command and capitalise on big moments over the next couple of fixtures.
The Blades are still without Sander Berg and Jack O’Connell, two players on the long-term injury list.
George Baldock and Enda Stevens are back in training.
Meanwhile, Michail Antonio should feature for the Hammers, despite there being doubts surrounding fatigue.
Centre-back Angelo Ogbonna has picked up an ankle injury and Andri Yarmolenko is out with a knee injury.
Tomas Soucek’s red card for an alleged elbow on Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrović has been overturned, so he should make plenty of impact running through from midfield tonight.
West Ham United (4-2-3-1)
Fabianski, Cresswell, Diop, Dawson, Coufal, Rice, Soucek, Bowen, Lingard, Benrahma, Antonio.
Sheffield United (3-5-2)
Ramsdale, Ampadu, Egan, Basham, Lowe, Fleck, Norwood, Lundstram, Bogle, Sharp, McGoldrick.
Kick off is at 6pm.
Referee is Simon Hooper
Available to watch on BT Sport 1 HD.