Chelsea have started well under Thomas Tuchel and they will be looking to step up their Champions League surge with a win over Sheffield United. This is a more difficult match that it would have been before the turn of the year, as the Blades have won three of their last five in the Premier League. For all of the talk that they would break Derby County’s long-standing record, Chris Wilder’s men have now matched their points tally and look to be trending in the correct direction. In the reverse fixture, Chelsea ran out comfortable winners, but Sheffield United did get on the scoresheet.
In their current position, Sheffield United are 11 points from safety and it is still looking likely that they will be relegated. However, there is now reason for supporters to hope, due to the improved performances and results on the pitch. Interestingly, they have won more matches than either Fulham or West Brom, therefore, some will believe that they are the most capable of getting out of the current bottom three. They have shown that they can spring a surprise, with a recent win over Manchester United. Furthermore, they managed to pick up the three points against Chelsea at Bramall Lane last season.
Thomas Tuchel will be encouraged by his first three matches in charge. They have managed to pick up seven points and kept three clean sheets. There has been reason to believe that the German can lead the team to a top four challenge and if they do manage to achieve Champions League qualification, it will justify the mid-season managerial change. Frank Lampard did a good job, but this season did show his inexperience and the board have now brought in a manager more suited to the current aims. The German has rotated his team, but the performance level has remained at a consistent level. The next challenge will be to improve the quality of chances being created in attack.
Under the management of Chris Wilder, Billy Sharp has scored 76 goals in all competitions. This is 44 more than any other Sheffield United player during this period.
During Tuchel’s first three matches in charge, Chelsea have conceded just 12 shots, with only two of these hitting the target.
Chris Basham has been one of the few players to consistently perform at Premier League level during the course of this season. He was man of the match against West Brom, as he got an assist and delivered in both halves of the pitch. The tactical set-up used by Chris Wilder provides a license for Basham to get up and support in attack. His assist for the equaliser showed the benefits of allowing him to get into advanced positions. At the age of 32, he has an excellent work rate and he can cover a lot of ground. Against West Brom, he made five tackles, two interceptions and five clearances to help his side to a vital three points. Further to this, he won all four of his aerial duals and showed that he could deal with the physical approach of the Baggies. In possession, he was equally as important, with two key passes, two completed dribbles and an 88% pass success rate. Chelsea will dominate the ball, as they have in every game under Tuchel, but Basham has the defensive quality to play a big part in the game and the calmness in possession to launch counter attacks effectively.
After being left out of Tuchel’s first starting eleven, it does look like Mason Mount will be equally as important to the German as he was for Frank Lampard. He has started the last two matches and looked very effective in an advanced role. The England international is still learning the game and he will benefit greatly from working under a tactical mind like Tuchel. Against Tottenham, he attempted three shots and made three key passes. Mount’s pass success rate of 91% is highly impressive considering that he was mainly operating in the final third. Against Sheffield United, Chelsea will get a lot of the ball again and they will need Mount to inject impetus to their attacks. Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic provide good balance to the midfield, but neither can break an opposition defence down in the same way as their 22-year-old team-mate. Hakim Ziyech may be given another chance to come into the team. If he doesn’t, the focus will be on Mount to break down the home side’s defence.
George Baldock and Ben Osborn are both major doubts for the weekend, but they could feature. Sander Berge and Jack O’Connell remain on the list of long term absentees.
Thiago Silva was taken off early against Tottenham and he is unlikely to be passed fit to start on Sunday. This will give an opportunity to Andreas Christensen to show his quality to the new manager. Kai Havertz and Kurt Zouma are both doubts for the trip to Yorkshire, as both players are carrying knocks.
This will be a more difficult test for Chelsea, than their previous meeting with Sheffield United. There is a renewed confidence within Chris Wilder’s squad and he will not allow them to give up on their survival hopes until it is mathematically impossible. I would expect them to be more positive against Chelsea than some of teams that the Blues have faced in Tuchel’s first three matches. That said, the Blues seem to be full of confidence under the German. They are defensively solid and their quality in possession is improving with every game. They should have enough to pick up the three points against the Blades.
Sheffield United 0-1 Chelsea