Sheffield United-Burnley Preview
Having righted themselves at a critical juncture, Sheffield United look to reignite their European aspirations Sunday with an intriguing clash versus Burnley at Turf Moor.
The promoted Blades (12-11-9) staggered out of the blocks of Project Restart, claiming just one point from their first three league matches while failing to score a goal and then getting bounced in the FA Cup quarterfinals by Arsenal. Back-to-back 3-0 losses at Newcastle United and Manchester United raised questions if Chris Wilder's side had finally run out of steam after being one of the biggest surprise packages of the Premier League seasons while hovering around the Champions League spots.
European play, however, is still a very real possibility for Sheffield United - they enter this match seventh in the table and trying to sustain the momentum of a 3-1 pasting of Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday. As abject as the Blades looked in their losses, they looked impressive in dismantling the north Londoners.
Sander Berge opened the scoring, and then after getting the benefit of a Spurs equaliser controversially chalked off by VAR, Lys Mousset and Oliver McBurnie added second-half goals. The 22-year-old Norway international, Berge set up McBurnie's marker six minutes from time as Sheffield moved seven points adrift of fifth-place Chelsea.
"The manner of that win should give us confidence," Wilder noted in his Friday press conference. "We didn't get the result we wanted against Arsenal, but we showed signs. The evening kick-off gave us a couple more hours to have a beer afterwards, so that was great and why not.
"We built on a solid Sheffield United performance against Arsenal. We needed to be better in the final third. We put a lot of good players under pressure and we got the balance of the game right. We got the right result for ourselves."
Wilder does have some personnel issues to deal with in midfield as Luke Freeman, John Lundstram, and John Fleck will all miss out due to injury. The trio, along with striker Leon Clarke, all are expected to be sidelined at least two weeks, putting them out of most of the run-in.
In facing Burnley, Wilder has a kindred spirit in the defence-first ethos of Sean Dyche. The Clarets (13-6-13) still have darkhorse European ambitions of their own and can overtake Sheffield with a victory.
Burnley shook off a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City to begin Project Restart, regrouping with 1-0 victories over both Watford and Crystal Palace. The latter came Monday at Selhurst Park, with talisman Ben Mee celebrating his 300th league appearance in grand style with a diving header on 62 minutes to separate the sides.
It was also the sixth clean sheet in eight league matches for Burnley, who also carry a five-match home unbeaten streak (3-2-0) in league play into this contest.
"We have come out of the lockdown with a lot of challenges, on and off the pitch, and we are still delivering," Dyche told Burnley's official website Saturday. "I literally thanked the players at (Crystal) Palace because it's not easy with all this going on - and yet they remain focused to take on the games with a real focus.
"We are not naive; we have to continue doing that against some really good sides, including Sheffield United next up, and we are challenged in terms of numbers. But there's a clear-mindedness about the group at the moment and I am super pleased with that."
Dyche may get some reinforcements to add to those numbers, with striker Jay Rodriguez and winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson angling for potential returns in this match. Burnley have been without key offensive contributors Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes since the restart, and Rodriguez, Wood, and Barnes have accounted for 26 of Burnley's 42 total goals in all competitions.
Sheffield United ran out easy 3-0 winners in the reverse fixture at Bramall Lane in November, getting a first-half brace from Lundstram and a third from Fleck right before halftime. Burnley failed to register a shot on target in the first Premier League meeting between the sides but did win the last three matchups at Turf Moor in the Championship.
Updated July 4, 2020