Saturday’s Premier League programme gets underway at Bramall Lane with an early relegation six-pointer between Sheffield United and Everton.
United’s return to the top flight after a two-year stint in the Championship has been an unmitigated disaster, with Paul Heckingbottom’s side losing all three opening league games.
Despite demonstrating tremendous fighting spirit, as evidenced by the fact each of those three defeats came by a single-goal margin, the Blades’ dismal start bears a striking resemblance to their fateful 2020/21 relegation campaign.
They had to wait until mid-January to post their first Premier League win when it was already too late to think of salvation – a scenario they are desperate to avoid this time.
The upcoming home clash against Everton looks like a presentable opportunity for United to find some light at the end of the tunnel and defy our ominous projections for their 2023/24 season.
Like their hosts, the Toffees have lost all three league matches at the beginning of Sean Dyche’s first full season in charge, suggesting we may have got ahead of ourselves for backing them to secure survival in our Everton season preview.
Not only are they pointless after the opening three rounds, but they’re also the only side in the Premier League yet to find the back of the net, highlighting the scepticism surrounding the club these days.
United came close to upsetting the apple cart on Sunday as Jayden Bogle’s 85th-minute equaliser against perennial champions Manchester City put them on the brink of an unexpected draw.
Rodri replied three minutes later to fire City to a 2-1 win at Bramall Lane, leaving Heckingbottom fuming after seeing his team lose back-to-back matches courtesy of goals conceded beyond the 85th minute.
Flying out of the traps could be a recipe to dig the Blades out of the trouble, but after failing to score before half-time in all three league matches this term, that looks highly unlikely.
United have lost two of their three Premier League home games against Everton in the 21st century by an identical 1-0 scoreline (D1), casting further doubt on their bid to bounce back.
Everton’s unbeaten top-flight record at Bramall Lane this millennium is perhaps the only saving grace for the visitors in an otherwise disastrous period for the club.
Aston Villa humbled the Toffees 4-0 at Villa Park on their first road trip of the season, leaving Dyche scratching his head as his men remain winless in ten of their 11 away league outings in 2023 (D5, L5).
Given Dyche’s well-documented defensive-minded approach, it’s barely a surprise that the Merseyside strugglers failed to trouble the scoreboard in 55% of those matches.
However, one goal could be enough to settle this affair, with Everton’s last three Premier League encounters against United yielding the same 1-0 score at full-time (W2, L1).
The hosts come into proceedings severely weakened by injuries, with Rhian Brewster, Max Lowe, John Fleck, Rhys Llewelyn Norrington-Davies, Daniel Jebbison and Ben Osborn unavailable for selection.
Everton are in a similar situation as Alex Iwobi, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Seamus Coleman, Jack Harrison, Dele Alli and Dwight McNeil cannot take this trip due to fitness issues.
Sheffield United potential starting line-up:
(3-4-2-1): Wes Foderingham; Jack Robinson, John Egan, Anel Ahmedhodzic; George Baldock, Oliver Norwood, Vinicius Souza, Yasser Larouci; Gustavo Hamer, Benie Traore; William Osula.
Everton potential starting line-up:
(4-4-1-1): Jordan Pickford; Nathan Patterson, Michael Keane, Mason Holgate, Ashley Young; James Garner, Idrissa Gueye, Amadou Onana, Abdoulaye Doucoure; Arnaut Danjuma; Beto.
We Say: Sheffield United 0-0 Everton
Both sides have become notorious for their dismal scoring records, leading us to believe another tepid affair could be on the cards.
The writing could be on the wall for Everton unless Beto can explode on his Premier League debut, although they can find some confidence from a comeback 2-1 win over fourth-tier Doncaster in midweek League Cup action.
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