On 21th January, Sheffield United will host West Ham in the 21st round of the Premier League. The Blades thrashed Gillingham earlier in January in the 1/32 final of the FA Cup, while the Hammers lost 0:1 to Bristol City last week and were knocked out of the tournament.
Having returned to the elite division last summer, Sheffield United currently sits at the bottom of the league table. The Blades are firm in the 20th spot, having earned only 9 points from 20 matches. They are 8 points shy of the safety zone, and it won't be easy to maintain their premier league status by the end of the season. In early December, the Stripes managed to beat Brentford at home (1:0) but have only drawn once and lost thrice since then. In late December, the Red and Black suffered losses at the hands of Luton (2:3) and Manchester City (2:0), but the Premier League newcomers easily thrashed Gillingham 4:0 in the 1/32 final of the FA Cup. Will Osula bagged a brace in the first half, followed by James McAtie in the second. Their next FA Cup venture will be against Brighton, but Chris Wilder's men will first seek to repair their sodden league campaign.
Sheffield have scored seven of their nine points at Bramall Lane, scoring 10 goals in 10 home matches and conceding 24. Captain Egan, midfielder Besham, playmaker Davis and forwards Jeppison and Brewster are all unavailable due to injuries. Yasser Larouci and Anis Ben Sliman are at the African Cup of Nations, so acting manager Wilder has his work cut out for him selecting starters. The promising 20-year-old forward Osula, after netting a double in the FA Cup, may get a starting nod this weekend, along with Archer (3 goals) and McBurnie (3 goals). Ben Brereton Dias, who made his debut against Gillingham, is also hopeful of playing time.
West Ham are in the race for a European spot and are now in 6th place in the Premier League, six points adrift of fifth-place Tottenham. A string of successful results in recent weeks has boosted the Hammers' confidence, evidenced by their solitary loss in their last 9 games - with 6 victories and 2 draws. After winning three successive matches against Wolverhampton, Manchester United, and Arsenal, the London club drew at home with Brighton (0:0) as the New Year kicked off. This week, David Moyes' men were dismissed by Bristol City from the 1/32 final of the FA Cup (2:1 on aggregate). Tommy Convey took advantage of a defensive error three minutes in to put the Robins ahead, and Said Benrahma was shown a red card in the second half for a foul on Joe Williams.
Having won their Europa League group, West Ham have secured a last 16 spot and can focus on domestic affairs until March. The team continues to manage without strikers Antonio and Brazilian midfielder Paquetá, who are recovering from injury in the pitlane. Aguerd and Kudus are also not in the squad due to the Africa Cup of Nations. The fitness levels of both Pablo Fornals and Edson Álvarez (calf) are in doubt; they didn't feature in the midweek Cup game. Key to the Hammers' attack is England winger Jarrod Bowen (11 goals). He's expected to start this weekend, along with Algerian Said Benrahma.
The Irons brushed aside Sheffield United 2:0 in September, claiming their third consecutive clean-sheet victory over Wilder's side.
Considering the visitors' depleted attack due to national team duty and injuries, Sheffield has a good chance of success at Bramall Lane this Saturday. The hosts have had a two-week rest and plenty of time to work on defence, whereas the Irons have failed to win their last three games in all competitions. I'm taking the risk on Sheffield avoiding defeat.
In the last four head-to-head matches, at least one of the teams didn't score. In light of the visitors' stricken attack, it's logical to wager on a total of less than 2.5 goals.