It’s been just over three months since a ball was last kicked in the Premier League. Leicester City’s 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa was the final game to be played before the decision was taken to suspend the league due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, Villa are one of the teams tasked with leading the Premier League into what, for now at least, is the ‘new normal’.
They host Sheffield United later this evening in the first Premier League game since March 9, and they both need to be quick out of the blocks if they are to achieve their respective goals this season.
Aston Villa Host Sheffield United as Premier League Returns
For Dean Smith’s side, the objective for the remainder of the season is simple: avoid relegation. That’s far easier said than done given their fixture list, which still contains games against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. They’re only two points behind a grouping of Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham United, but come into this period with the leakiest defence in the league, having conceded 56 times so far.
A leaky defence is not so much of a worry against Sheffield United, who have scored the lowest number of goals of a team in the top half of the table with 30. The Blades’ ability to grind results out (of their 11 wins, only three have been by more than a one-goal margin), though, has them in a far better position than Villa. Chris Wilder’s side are well in the hunt for a Europa League place and, depending on the outcome of Manchester City’s court case, they could even stake a claim for a Champions League spot.
While form has been thrown out of the window due to the three-month break, Sheffield United also have the lack of a home advantage in their favour now too. Had this game been played with a crowd, Villa may have fancied their chances to at least take a draw. With games being played behind closed doors and only pumped-in crowd noise for company, that slight advantage has been taken off the hosts. Indeed, as we have seen in the Bundesliga, which has been back for around a month, there have only been ten home wins from 50 matches.
John McGinn is in contention for Villa after recovering from a fractured ankle he suffered in December. The Villains have collected just ten points from a possible 30 since his injury, so will be happy to see him return.
Still missing for the home side will be striker Wesley and goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who continue to recover from long-term injuries. Loan-signing Pepe Reina will likely continue in goal despite Jed Steer’s return from an Achilles problem.
Sheffield United have a full squad to choose from. They had no long-term injuries before the break and the time away has allowed smaller injuries to pass through.
Goalkeeper Dean Henderson will be eligible to play regardless, but it is expected that he will officially sign a loan extension from Manchester United in the coming days.
After weeks of adapting to the European football being broadcast all over, it will be great to see another major league officially make its return. It will also be interesting to see if the Premier League still retains the quality that many believe sets it apart from the other major divisions.
Sheffield United do not score many goals but that has not been a problem for them. If they only get two chances all game, it’s likely one will be taken, especially with Aston Villa’s defence. It certainly will not be a high-scoring game.
‘Form’ virtually means nothing for these remaining fixtures, but the players on the pitch are the same as before. There is no question that Sheffield United’s group are good enough to grind out wins, but the questions over Villa’s squad and their ability to stay in the Premier League are rife.
Prediction: Aston Villa 0-1 Sheffield United