Sheffield United look to continue their dream season this weekend, as the Blades will host Brighton & Hove Albion at Bramall Lane on Saturday afternoon.
United may have started the campaign just aiming to avoid relegation, but they now have their sights set on Champions League qualification, especially after the news that broke last week.
Manchester City were given a two year ban from European competitions from UEFA after breaching rules related to Financial Fair Play. The club will be appealing the decision, but if it stands, that’ll have a significant impact on the rest of the Premier League.
Since the Citizens will likely finish in the top four, but won’t be allowed into the Champions League, then whoever gets 5th in the Premier League will take their spot in the tournament.
The Blades go into the weekend in 6th place, only one point behind Spurs and two behind Chelsea in the race for the final few qualifying positions. The likes of Manchester United, Wolves, and Everton are close behind as well, so every point matters at this stage of the season.
United have kept up their blistering form, winning their last three games in all competitions. If they don’t let the gravity of the situation get to them, then there’s plenty of reason for Blades fans to start dreaming of an European adventure.
Meanwhile, Brighton are in a real fight for survival. They are currently in 15th place, only three points ahead of the drop zone.
Things have been quite dreadful for the Seagulls since the start of the new year, as their last win actually came at the end of 2019.
Fans were optimistic when they started the season on the front foot, but it’s been all downhill since then.
Brighton were quite lucky to even get a point against fellow relegation candidates Watford, even though they were at home. The Hornets took the lead on the afternoon, as Abdoulaye Doucoure drove upfield on the counter before curling a shot into the top corner.
The Seagulls controlled possession, but just couldn’t find a way past their defensive opposition. However, it would end up being Watford who shot themselves in the foot as per usual. Adrian Mariappa, under no pressure at all, messed up a clearance and ended up simply smashing a low cross into the roof of his own net.
Brighton did come close to snatching a late winner, but were ultimately forced to settle for a point at home.
Last time out
It’s not been too long since these two sides last faced off, as their previous matchup came near the very end of 2019.
Taking place at the Amex Stadium, United thought they had opened the scoring after only seven minutes when John Egan bundled home a corner. However, VAR would get involved, and the goal was ultimately taken off the board after the referee spotted a foul on Brighton goalkeeper Matthew Ryan.
The Blades wouldn’t let that decision get to their heads, however, as they did take the lead in the 22nd minute. A long ball was poorly defended by the hosts, which allowed Oliver McBurnie to sneak in behind the backline. The striker made no mistake with the finish, rifling his shot off the post and into the back of the net.
United would have another goal taken away by VAR at the hour mark. This time it was Jack O’Connell converting a corner from close range, but after a second look, the referee noticed the defender was offside, so the score stayed at 1-0.
The Seagulls started to control possession, and came close to equalizing on a few occasions. However, they could not find a way past Dean Henderson, who was excellent as per usual.
He helped the Blades secure the clean sheet and all three points on the road, keeping them near the top of the league standings.
United have no injuries or suspensions to worry about, which is incredibly fortunate at this stage of the season.
Things aren’t much worse for Brighton, but they will be without winger Jose Izquierdo, who has been sideline with a knee injury since the end of last season.
Dale Stephens is also a doubt, and will undergo a late fitness test to see if he’s able to feature or not.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Berge, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens, Moussett, Sharp
Brighton & Hove Albion: Ramsdale, Smith, Francis, Ake, Rico, Wilson, Billing, Surman, Gosling, Fraser, Wilson
What to watch for
Is this the start of a scoring streak for Sharp?
Billy Sharp wasn’t having the best season going into United’s last game two weeks ago. He had only scored once, and that goal came in the very first week of the campaign. The forward wasn’t starting on a consistent basis, with some wondering if he would be leaving in the January window.
However, Sharp was able to find the back of the net against AFC Bournemouth, which might have just been the start of his midseason resurgence.
He’s a striker that is at his best when he is confident. Someone who plays instinctively, Sharp makes decisions quickly, whether that’s picking out a teammate with a pass or getting a shot off towards goal.
His clinical nature means most of his shots end up flying past the opposing keeper, and Blades fans will hope Sharp can get on the scoresheet once again against Brighton.
United haven’t been the best team going forward, but with their captain in top form once again, the goals might start pouring in for the Blades as they push on towards Champions League qualification.