Chelsea-Sheffield United Preview
Sheffield United have a golden chance to strengthen their hopes for European play next season as they host Chelsea in a top-seven encounter at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
The promoted Blades (13-12-9) continue to outpace all expectations for them and continue to track towards Europa League qualification. They currently are seventh in the table on 51 points, but sixth may be good enough for direct Europa League qualification should the Court of Arbitration for Sport uphold UEFA's two-year ban of Manchester City for European play - and a decision could come as early as Monday.
Chris Wilder's side, though, also have grafted their way into this position with seven points from their last three matches after claiming one from their first three in Project Restart while failing to score. Sheffield United claimed a massive victory Wednesday, edging sixth-place Wolverhampton 1-0 through John Egan's header in the 93rd minute off a corner from Oliver Norwood.
It was the second straight match Egan has delivered late for the Blades, securing a vital point Sunday at Burnley with a goal 10 minutes from time.
"Delighted that John's come to the party," joked Wilder about Egan - who had not scored previously this season before Sunday - during his Friday press conference. "I'm not sure he's going to get the target I set but any additions from now on in would be great."
Sheffield United have never won four consecutive Premier League matches in a single season in club history, with the only such run bridging the final three matches of the 1992-93 season and the opener the following term. The Blades have taken 10 points from Big Six sides this season, with both wins coming at home over Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.
They nicked a point off Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the reverse fixture, rallying from two down at halftime for a 2-2 draw as Callum Robinson started the fightback before Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma supplied the equaliser via own goal. That result gives Wilder confidence his team can claim another result here.
"It was a huge goal," Wilder said of Robinson's goal in the first meeting. "We managed to get one early on and then it gives us a little bit of belief. To go to Chelsea and get a result was huge for us and our confidence levels and the expectancy we can go and produce positive performances. And our second-half performance was really positive."
Chelsea (18-6-10) are third in the table on 60 points and part of a three-way fight for Champions League places with Leicester City and Manchester United, though all three would qualify for Europe's top club tournament if Man City's ban is upheld.
The Pensioners have won four of five matches in Project Restart and coming off a 3-2 victory at Crystal Palace on Tuesday. Willian set up goals by Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud inside the first half-hour, and Tammy Abraham's goal to restore a two-goal cushion on 71 minutes proved vital with Chelsea conceding almost straightaway after.
Some of those defensive frailities were apparent early in the season, and the 46 goals Frank Lampard's team have shipped in league play are tied with Burnley for the most among any top-half club. Despite some of the nerve-jangling wins, Lampard expressed pleasure with the fact his side control their own destiny.
"We have had to find ways round that and now the destiny is in our own hands and it is up to us," the gaffer said at his Friday press conference. "I am pretty happy with where we are. We could have done even better at times, but I can't jump the gun now because we have seen in the last few weeks how the table can look very different very quickly.
"So we mustn't jump ahead of ourselves. It is where we end (the season) that will be important."
Getting Abraham back on the goal-scoring song could prove vital to the run-in. The 22-year-old, who accounted for both of Chelsea's goals in the first matchup as part of a blinding spell, ended an eight-match goal drought in league play with his marker Tuesday. Nine of his 14 goals have come on the road, highlighted by a hat trick at Wolves.
The teams have split seven all-time Premier League meetings, but Chelsea are 3-1-0 in the last four after dropping the first three. This is their first trip to Bramall Lane since a 2-0 win in 2006, and Sheffield's last victory was a 1-0 home triumph in 1993.
Updated July 10, 2020