Sheffield United travel to Aston Villa on Monday night in their first away game of the 2020/21 Premier League campaign.
The Blades will be hoping to bounce back from defeat on opening weekend as two early goals from Wolverhampton Wanderers saw them take the points at Bramall Lane. Since then, summer signings Wes Foderingham, Max Lowe, Jayden Bogle, Ethan Ampadu and Oli Burke have made their debuts at Burnley in the Carabao Cup, and there were certainly positives from that tie for Chris Wilder despite a penalty shoot-out defeat.
These teams were promoted from the Championship together in 2018/19, but enjoyed contrasting campaigns last time out. United sustained a remarkable challenge for European football for much of the season before eventually finishing an impressive 9th, whilst Aston Villa survived relegation by the skin of their teeth, finding form at just the right time to complete a great escape as they took eight points from their last four matches.
This is Dean Smith’s side’s season curtain-raiser as their scheduled trip to Manchester City last weekend will be played later in the campaign due to their opponents’ involvement in the Champions League in August. They have, however, progressed in the Carabao Cup with a 3-1 win at Burton Albion. And it has to be said the Villains have the look of a revamped side this term. They certainly haven’t been afraid to spend in the areas where improvement was needed: Arsenal’s Emirates FA Cup winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez has joined, as have two of the Championship’s star performers in Nottingham Forest right-back Matty Cash and Brentford striker Ollie Watkins. Lyon forward Bertrand Traoré also signed over the weekend, whilst talisman Jack Grealish has signed a new five-year contract, and just today centre-back Tyrone Mings has extended his stay until 2024.
There’s usually drama when this fixture plays out, so expect a good watch if you’re able to tune in.
Wilder looks to have a full-strength squad to choose from with the exception of forward Lys Mousset, who remains sidelined with a foot injury. Sander Berge and David McGoldrick were only fit enough for substitute appearances against Wolves, but both played at Burnley on Thursday, with the latter scoring in the 1-1 draw. The Blades remain in the market for another striker, but for this one Wilder will have to choose from Burke, Oli McBurnie, McGoldrick and Billy Sharp to make up his front two.
For Villa, goalkeeper Tom Heaton and striker Wesley suffered serious knee injuries on New Years’ Day and remain some way off a return to action, whilst defender Bjorn Engels has also been out injured since the restart of football in June. Martínez, Cash and Watkins are in contention to start, but it is yet to be confirmed whether Traoré is as well.
This fixture made history last season as the first ever behind closed doors Premier League fixture to kick-off the restart of English football. It also made history as the first time in over 9,000 matches worldwide the Hawk-Eye Goal Line Technology made an error as a clear goal for Ollie Norwood was not awarded, which meant United were held to a 0-0 draw. Earlier in the season at Bramall Lane John Fleck double helped to ensure a 2-0 Blades win over Villa.
In 2018/19 at Villa Park, Wilder’s team looked to be cruising to victory thanks to a Billy Sharp hat-trick, but the home side produced an astonishing turnaround in the final eight minutes to earn a 3-3 draw. The same fixture in 2017/18 saw the Blades fashion a comeback as Clayton Donaldson’s double saw them come from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.
United won 2-1 at Villa Park in the FA Cup in 2014, but haven’t won there in the league since 1966. They have. However, only lost one of the last seven meetings between the sides.
39 goals have been scored across eight games so far on matchday two. This is one of two games on Monday night, which need to garner five goals to break the Premier League record (for a 20-team division) of 43 in one gameweek.
Villa won their final two home matches of last season, whilst United are seeking to arrest a six-game winless streak on the road.
One to watch
Eight Premier League goals helped captain Grealish take most of the headlines for Villa last season, but their two main options up front after the injury of Wesley last season were January signing Mbwana Samatta and Keinan Davis, who mustered just one Premier League goal between them. Much rests therefore on the shoulders of Ollie Watkins. He has previously worked under manager Smith at Brentford, for whom he reached double figures in the goalscoring charts in his first two seasons after joining from Exeter City, before being moved into a more central position and scoring 25 Championship goals in 2019/20. He has signed for Villa for a club-record fee reported to be around £28m, and will be well worth the sizeable outlay if he provides the firepower to give his side a more comfortable campaign this time around.
The match kicks-off at 6pm, with build-up starting an hour earlier on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Premier League. It is followed by Wolves against Manchester City, kicking-off at 8:15pm on the same channels.