Man City vs. Sheffield United
Venue: Etihad Stadium
Kick off: 7PM
Manchester City welcome Sheffield United to the Etihad Stadium this evening looking to bounce back from their latest defeat in a disappointing campaign.
The champions threw away a two-goal lead to lose against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Friday and must now try to recover within 48 hours for the visit of surprise package Sheffield United.
Not even the most ardent Sheffield United fan would have expected their side to have lost fewer games than Man City at the halfway point of the season, but that is the situation they find themselves in heading into today’s contest.
Both teams have experienced surprising campaigns in different ways, with Sheffield United making a mockery of their status as pre-season relegation favourites and Man City getting nowhere near the pace set by Liverpool.
The defeat to Wolves was their fifth of the season in the league already, leaving them 14 points adrift of Liverpool having played a game more than the team which now looks destined to take the top-flight crown off them.
Liverpool have admittedly set a standard which is nigh-on impossible to live with, but Man City have fallen short of their own benchmark and have already dropped more points in the first half of this season than they did throughout the whole of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns.
The latest loss did have mitigating circumstances, not least having Ederson sent off after only 12 minutes, but to have surrendered a 2-0 lead would have angered Pep Guardiola, particularly as it was surely the final nail in their title challenge.
Man City saw only 37.8% of the ball in that defeat – the lowest any Guardiola side has ever registered during his managerial career – and being forced to play with 10 men for the vast majority of the match will do nothing to help the fatigue which is bound to occur with two games in less than 48 hours.
In general Man City have bounced back quickly from previous setbacks under Guardiola, not losing successive matches since Boxing Day of last year.
The champions are also unbeaten in their last 37 home league games against promoted opposition, a run which stretches back to 2007 and includes 33 wins, while they have only lost their final league game of a calendar year once in the last 18 years.
However, City look a lot more vulnerable this season than they have for much of the Guardiola reign, and that will encourage a Sheffield United side that has surpassed all expectations so far this term.
Chris Wilder’s side head into the weekend sitting seventh in the Premier League table, only three points off the Champions League places at the midway point of the campaign.
The Blades are very much there on merit too, losing just once in their last 12 games in a run which stretches back to September. By contrast, Man City have lost four times in the same period.
That record will be severely tested either side of the New Year with successive away games against Man City and Liverpool, but it is on the road where they have been the most impressive this term.
Indeed, Sheffield United are unbeaten in their last 18 away league games since January, with only the top four having picked up more points on their travels in the top flight and only Liverpool having conceded fewer goals.
Should the Blades avoid defeat today then they would equal Burnley’s 72-year record for the longest away unbeaten run from the start of a top-flight season for a promoted team, with again only Liverpool also able to boast an unblemished record on the road.
United’s difficult run extends beyond New Year’s Day, with Arsenal and then Man City again to come in their next five league games, but so impressive have they been this season that they will go into just about every game believing that they can win.
Wilder’s side are already only three wins and a draw away from the magic 40-point mark and so their minds can begin drifting away from merely survival for the second half of the season, with the prospect of Europe becoming more realistic by the week.
A positive result against Man City would help to prove that they could hold their own in continental competition, having already pushed Liverpool all the way this term.
Wilder will not allow his players to think that far ahead just yet, but if they become the latest team to take points off the champions then it would be a perfect end to a memorable year for the club.
Man City possible XI: Bravo, Cancelo, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Zinchenko, De Bruyne, Gundogan, Foden, Bernardo, Aguero, Sterling.
Sheffield United possible XI: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens, McBurnie, Mousset.