Improved performances continue to yield few points for Sheffield United as they fell to a 2-1 defeat against a resurgent Chelsea.
The defeat leaves the Blades 12 points adrift of safety with 15 games left and still with the joint fewest points in Premier League history (with Derby County in 2007/08) with 11, an unfortunate record Chris Wilder’s side will be hoping to put behind them as soon as possible.
A lack of goals and defensive instability caused by the loss of goalkeeper Dean Henderson back to parent club Manchester United have been contributing factors to the South Yorkshire side’s malaise and both were factors in the defeat. Their only goal came from a bizarre Antonio Rudiger own goal, and Jorginho’s decisive penalty was of United’s own doing with Kean Bryan’s woeful back-pass putting Aaron Ramsdale under pressure and leading to him bringing down Timo Werner.
But things could have been so different had the home side capitalised on an energetic start that saw them catch Thomas Tuchel’s side cold. In the first minute Oli McBurnie put Oliver Burke through on goal only for him to fire wide. They then thought they had a penalty ten minutes later after Ben Chilwell clumsily bundled Chris Basham to the floor, only for a VAR check to rule that the United centre back was marginally offside.
From there, the game settled into the routine many pundits had expected with the Blues dominating the ball (they had 76% possession) and United sitting behind the ball and looking to counter. However, perhaps inevitably the West London side’s quality shone through with a moment of quality on the stroke of half time. Werner flicked the ball to the edge of the box for Mason Mount to finish exquisitely.
While Blades fans could be forgiven for accepting defeat given the struggles of this season, a lifeline was handed to them in bizarre fashion early in the second half. A defensive mix up saw Rudiger attempt a back pass only to slot the ball past helpless goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to level the scores.
Parity was not restored for long though, as the aforementioned penalty saw the visitors from West London retake the lead just four minutes later. Ramsdale’s foul on Werner initially went unnoticed by referee Kevin Friend, only for another VAR intervention to see the spot kick awarded. Jorginho went for power when netting Chelsea’s winner from the spot in the midweek clash against Tottenham, but returned to his regular hop, skip and jump technique to send Ramsdale the wrong way and restore the visitors lead.
To their credit, United do not look like a team resigned to their seemingly inevitable relegation fate and pushed for an equaliser late on. Club icon Billy Sharp almost capped his 600th appearance for United with a spectacular overhead kick in the dying seconds only for Mendy to save.
Wilder looked to strike a positive note post-match and turned an eye to the future. He said: “We have played Man City, Chelsea, Man United in three of the last four games, thankfully they are gone. No disrespect to the other teams we are going to play, and I hope they will be closer to get some results on the board. Whether it will be enough I don’t know”.
While the task of avoiding relegation may be an insurmountable one, United have a cup run to take solace in and they have a chance to reach the FA Cup quarter finals with a win over Bristol City on Wednesday before they face another London side in West Ham next Monday.