Chelsea face Sheffield United in a must-win encounter at Bramall Lane on Saturday as the battle for UEFA Champions League qualification hots up.
Chelsea are looking to extend their winning run to three games in the Premier League when they travel to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United this weekend. They are coming on the back of consecutive wins over Watford and Crystal Palace – a run of form that helped them overtake Leicester City in the last matchday.
However, the Blues will now be tasked with the job of holding onto their third place in the table. And they can’t afford to be complacent at all, especially with Leicester City and in-form Manchester United breathing down their necks. The Red Devils, in particular, have won all of their last five matches and are being tipped as favourites to overtake Chelsea.
As for Sheffield United, they are still in the running for a potential place in the UEFA Europa League next season. They are currently seventh in the league table with 51 points – six behind fifth-placed Manchester United and one behind Wolverhampton Wanderers in sixth.
At the same time, the Blades are set to face a tough test against Chelsea, although it could be extremely advantageous if they do manage to churn out three points, especially with Arsenal set to face Tottenham Hotspur in the North London derby on Sunday.
And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the two sides ahead of this important fixture in the top half of the Premier League table.
Team News & Tactics
Chris Wilder’s men have been in excellent form, especially following the return of key defender Jack O’Connell. And he is unlikely to make any changes to the three-man backline consisting of Chris Basham, John Egan and O’Connell himself.
We don’t expect any changes out wide either, with George Baldock and Enda Stevens set to operate as wing-backs once again. However, this time, they may have to operate in a deeper role in order to cope with Chelsea’s mighty attack.
In midfield, Wilder is likely to be boosted by the return of full fitness of John Lundstram. He should be recalled into the starting lineup, at the expense of Ben Osborn while Oliver Norwood and Sander Berge are guaranteed starters in the middle of the park. Key midfielder John Fleck is a doubt heading into this game.
Meanwhile, in the attack, Oliver McBurnie, who picked up a knock in the last game, is a doubt for the game. He could be making way for David McGoldrick, who could return from injury to start alongside Billy Sharp in the offensive unit. Lys Mousset is in line to come into the side, should McGoldrick and McBurnie both fail to get back to fitness.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood, Berge, Stevens; Sharp, McGoldrick
Frank Lampard has to make key decision this weekend as he misses a few players due to injury. Billy Gilmour, in particular, has been ruled out for four months while N’Golo Kante is still out injured. That should pave the way for Jorginho to be recalled into the side.
The Italian is expected to operate in his customary number six role, with Ross Barkley and Mason Mount partnering him alongside. There is a possibility that Mateo Kovacic, who is back from injury, features against the Blades, although the Croatian is unlikely to start.
In defence, Lampard may continue with the composure and experience of Cesar Azpilicueta at left-back rather than the dynamism and unpredictability of Marcos Alonso. It should thus allow Reece James to retain his role on the opposite flank.
Meanwhile, Antonio Rudiger is pushing for a place in the starting lineup. But Chelsea are likely to continue with the duo of Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen at the heart of the four-man backline.
And finally, in the attack, Olivier Giroud could once again be preferred ahead of top scorer Tammy Abraham, who is reportedly keen on securing an improved deal at Chelsea. Giroud should be partnered by the wide attacking duo of Willian and Christian Pulisic, both of whom have performed extremely well in recent weeks.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Kepa; James, Zouma, Christensen, Azpilicueta; Barkley, Jorginho, Mount; Willian, Giroud, Pulisic
- Sheffield United have won five of their past seven home matches against Chelsea, albeit the Blues did win on their last visit to Bramall Lane in October 2006 with current manager Frank Lampard both scoring and assisting Chelsea goals.
- Olivier Giroud has scored four goals in his last six league games, including in each of the last two. The Frenchman had only scored in four of his previous 40 matches in the competition.
- Chelsea have won their last five Premier League games in Yorkshire and are unbeaten in their last nine in the county (W7, D2).
- Sheffield United’s tally of 51 points after 34 Premier League matches is the highest by a promoted team since 2000-01.
- Chelsea have accrued 30 points in away matches this term (W9, D3, L5), with only champions Liverpool gaining more.
Player to Watch
Jorginho has been left out in the cold since the restart, due to the emergence of Gilmour. However, with the youngster being ruled out for four months, this could serve as an excellent opportunity for the Italian to regain his position in the side.
Jorginho’s positional game, work-rate and passing could all be key elements as Chelsea look to break open a Sheffield United backline that is expected to operate in a deeper role.
Another key observation from the midfielder’s performance this weekend is the way he looks to gel with the likes of Barkley and Mount in the starting lineup. And stopping him, therefore, could be important if Sheffield United are to secure a win this weekend.
Sheffield United 1-1 Chelsea
As mentioned earlier, Sheffield United are more than expected to take a cautious approach by committing a lot of defenders and keeping the opposition out. And although we expect Chelsea to secure at least a goal, that could be nullified by the Blades, who are actually quite good when it comes to attacking the opposition.