Preview: Sheffield United

A first away win at the weekend was the shot in the arm that Coventry City’s season needed. From seven points adrift of safety to four, and with a chance now to get off the bottom of the table, the Sky Blues are close to catching up with the rest of the division. The task now is to keep the points ticking over.

Second-place Sheffield United present a significant hurdle for Coventry City in this quest to get away from danger as quickly as possible. While the Blades are winless in their past four games, their league position and impressive performances this campaign will make this one of the toughest challenges yet for the Sky Blues. By that same token, a good result in this game would provide further credence to the argument that Coventry City are on a positive footing.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Wilson; Rose, McFadzean, Panzo; Dabo, Eccles, Sheaf, Bidwell; Allen; Gyokeres, Godden.
Possible Line-Up

The key piece of team news heading into this game is the return of Gustavo Hamer after a four-game suspension. While the team has only lost one game and conceded one goal in his absence, there is little argument that Hamer being available does not immediately make Coventry City a better team. The question is how hasty Mark Robins will be in reintroducing the midfielder into the side after a second transgression of the campaign.

A positive performance against Cardiff City from Josh Eccles in central midfield provides the manager with a reason not to start Gustavo Hamer right away in this game. While Hamer potentially adds another dimension to the team, Eccles’ tactical discipline and energy may be seen as valuable in a game where Coventry City may be without the ball for long stretches.

The other area of team selection interest heading into this game is the likely return of Michael Rose in defence. The Scot had looked out of sorts in the opening weeks of the campaign, before dropping out of the team injured and seeing the defence improve markedly. However, Rose looked much better after being brought back into the fold as an early substitute against Cardiff City at the weekend, which is good news as it may take a week or two for Callum Doyle to get over being the other side of that tactical switch.

The other decision for Mark Robins to make looks set to be just who starts behind the strikers out of Jamie Allen and Kasey Palmer. It is a choice between the tactical discipline that Allen provides versus the manic energy and flashes of quality that Palmer can add to the team. Given that this games is likely to be a test of Coventry City’s discipline, Mark Robins may prefer Jamie Allen here and look to utilise Kasey Palmer later on, as he did at the weekend, as an injection of energy against tired legs.

Last Time We Met

Coventry City’s last game against Sheffield United back in March was the team’s last home win prior to the victory over Middlesbrough just over two weeks ago, and what a win it was. It started off looking like another typical 2022 Sky Blues performance, with chances missed and the opposition going on to punish weak defending to take the lead. Importantly, however, Coventry City found an equaliser pretty quickly, with Michael Rose’s long ball forward being seized upon by Viktor Gyokeres to tie the scores.

Things remained in the balance until the second-half, when the Sky Blues, specifically, Callum O’Hare, finally let loose in front of goal in a manner they had threatened to in the months prior. First, O’Hare, despite his best efforts not to, bundled in an effort from centimetres out after Viktor Gyokeres had seen a strike hit the post. Then, O’Hare finished a neat effort from just inside the six-yard box after being teed up by Gyokeres. Finally, the attacking midfielder burst through on goal and passed to Matt Godden who had an open goal to wrap up the win. All of this was achieved while both Mark Robins and Adi Viveash were out of action with Covid.

The Opposition

The Manager – Paul Heckingbottom

Having steered Sheffield United into the play-offs last season after being appointed to steady the ship mid-way through the campaign, the question hanging over Paul Heckingbottom this year had been what he is capable of doing with the time and resources to mould the team to his own liking. The early signs had looked pretty positive, with the Blades leading the league and pretty much dominating every game they played. That was until a recent four-game winless streak.

It has to be pointed out, however, that this recent run has been more down to a nightmare run of injuries – with around seven first-choice players currently sidelined – than a reflection of a dip in performance levels. With an experienced squad largely made up of players that either won promotion to the Premier League with the club back in 2019 or were signed during their stint in the top-flight, Paul Heckingbottom hasn’t had to do much to get Sheffield United around the promotion places. Nonetheless, the ability to garner a consistent level of performance and motivation shouldn’t be underestimated.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-5-1-1): Davies; Basham, Egan, Ahmedhodzic; Baldock, Doyle, Norwood, McAtee, Osborn; Ndiaye; McBurnie.
Possible Line-Up

Despite all those injures – made worse by a suspension picked up by goalkeeper, Wes Foderingham, at the weekend – Sheffield United still have a very strong team to pick from. It is in attacking areas where the Blades look strongest, where the mobile target-man, Oli McBurnie, has been revitalised this season having looked completely out-of-sorts following a big money move to the club during their Premier League days. The pacey Rhian Brewster, whose career trajectory with Sheffield United can be described similarly to McBurnie, is another dangerous strike option, while master goal poacher, Billy Sharp, remains evergreen

Supporting McBurnie, is likely to be Iliman Ndiaye, who has burst onto the scene over the past year after emerging from Sheffield United’s development system. A fleet-footed and industrious attacking player, Ndiaye appears to have stepped up another level this season after a breakout campaign last year. In addition, the Blades can call upon further skilful Premier League loanees in the furiously quick, Reda Khadra, and the cultured James McAtee to supplement their already-loaded attacking threat.

Sheffield United may be short of numbers in central midfield, but Oliver Norwood’s ability to control games makes them very strong in that area of pitch. He’ll be aided by Manchester City loanee, Tommy Doyle (no relation to Callum Doyle), who is a really solid all-rounder in the middle of the park. In addition, George Baldock and Ben Osborn from wing-back can contribute to the Blades overloading opponents in central areas.

At the back, Anel Ahmedhodzic has been an eye-catching addition for Sheffield United this summer. The Bosnian centre-back very much fits into the mould of technically-proficient, overlapping defenders that have defined this current era at Bramall Lane, and will look to be very positive in stepping into midfield to support attacks. That will leave the dominant, John Egan, with some work to do in cutting off counter-attacks, which he is very good at doing so.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

The impact of the shellacking that Coventry City handed Sheffield United back in March is likely to be fresh in both manager’s minds. For Mark Robins, he will surely look to build the game-plan around isolating Sheffield United’s defenders against Viktor Gyokeres. For Paul Heckingbottom, he may well be wary in setting his team up in a manner that may risk such scenarios happening – particularly, with the Blades on a four-game winless run and likely to be without their first-choice goalkeeper (unless a hopeful appeal against Wes Foderingham’s red card is successful).

There may be a good argument for Coventry City starting Kasey Palmer as part of the attack in this game in order to add a further presence who can draw some of the attention away from Viktor Gyokeres. The Swede showed in the previous meeting between the two teams that he can cause the usually composed, John Egan, all sorts of problems in one-against-one situations. With Palmer getting up close to Gyokeres to help occupy opposing defenders, it may be hard for Sheffield United to avoid the individual battle that could well define this game.

While Coventry City are on a good run defensively, the way in which the Sky Blues tend to drop deep and put little pressure on the opposing midfield could be a risky strategy against a Sheffield United side that have some very capable ball-players who will pick out gaps, and mobile attacking players who can make runs to stretch the defence. Adding to that is the quality of delivery the Blades have from their wing-backs, with Oli McBurnie capable of taking advantage of that. There is a chance that Coventry City could be out of this game before they have the opportunity to unleash Viktor Gyokeres against the opposing defence.

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