Sheffield United host a depleted West Ham United squad at Bramall Lane this Sunday, which will be seen as a huge opportunity for the Blades to get a much-needed three points on the board.
Entering the latter part of the Premier League season, Sheffield United find themselves intensifying their struggle against relegation. Currently occupying the bottom spot on the table, they are eight points adrift of safety, having secured only two victories in their 20 matches thus far.
The team boasts the league’s weakest defence and attack, and despite the return of Chris Wilder as manager, they have been unable to reverse their fortunes.
Since their last triumph against Brentford in early December, Sheffield United have suffered three defeats and managed only one draw, succumbing to Chelsea, Luton, and Manchester City.
Meanwhile, West Ham are actively pursuing a spot in the top four, displaying a remarkable turnaround in recent performances. The Hammers are currently just six points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, securing victory in half of their 20 league matches. They significantly narrowed the gap with a crucial win over the Gunners just after the Christmas period.
This triumph marked their third consecutive victory, with previous wins against Wolves and Manchester United, all achieved without conceding a goal. Although their winning streak concluded at the start of the new year, West Ham maintains an undefeated status in the league, securing a goalless draw against Brighton. However, West Ham faced elimination from the FA Cup after a replay against Championship side Bristol City in midweek.
Yasser Larouci and Anis Ben Slimane are currently on international duty, and Max Lowe, John Egan, Tom Davies and Chris Basham are still sidelined. United are optimistic about the potential return of players such as Jayden Bogle, George Baldock, Anel Ahmedhodzic, and Auston Trusty. The latter three were not included in the squad for the FA Cup third-round game to avoid any risks.
Nayef Aguerd and Mohammed Kudus are currently away on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, while Jarrod Bowen, Lucas Paqueta, and Michail Antonio are sidelined due to injuries for West Ham. But there have been rumours suggesting the Hammers could try and push Bowen back for this fixture.
It’s also been reported that Edson Alvarez and Pablo Fornals are doubtful.
There is positive news for the team as Kostantinos Mavropanos and Vladimir Coufal are expected to return from injury.
With several key players missing for the visitors I expect Sheffield United’s best players to have a huge impact on this game. Given his goal involvements last time out against Gillingham, James McAtee should be feeling super confident heading into this one.
West Ham get out-possessed by their opponents down their left, in contrast, the Blades’ right side is the only area in the attacking third where United have as many touches as the opposition. Everywhere else in the final third sees the Blades have less possession than their opponents.
Emerson will likely be the man McAtee will come up against, and given Emerson was dribbled past four times in the games against Bristol City, perhaps the Manchester City loanee can have similar joy.
On the flip side for the Hammers, if they are to be without Alvarez, Bowen and Fornals, there hopes of creating something will have to be on James Ward-Prowse’s outstanding set piece delivery. Sheffield United have faced challenges in defending crosses all season, conceding the highest number of goals (13) in the Premier League. This vulnerability adds a layer of difficulty as they prepare to face West Ham, especially considering that Ward-Prowse leads the Premier League in assists via crosses, having provided five such assists this term.
Sheffield United have struggled to find the back of the net, having scored only 15 goals in the current Premier League season. Additionally, they have faced adversity in falling behind early in matches, conceding the first goal in 16 Premier League games.
West Ham have demonstrated a strong record against Sheffield United, securing victories in their past three encounters without conceding a goal. Furthermore, the Hammers have showcased defensive prowess by keeping a clean sheet in their last four league matches.