The International break is over and we’re set for another big weekend of club action across Europe. Everton host Liverpool in the Merseyside derby, Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta go face-to-face again as Manchester City welcome Arsenal, while in Italy, Inter and AC Milan meet in a historic derby. But, perhaps one of the most important game of the weekend is overlooked as Sheffield United face Fulham in a huge six-pointer.
On Sunday, the Blades welcome Fulham to Bramall Lane with both sides still seeking their first points of the season. Both clubs had different campaigns last season but face similar predicaments in the early exchanges this season. For Sheffield United, after announcing themselves in their return to the English top-flight last term, they will be looking to regain some of the form they showed last season. Fulham, meanwhile, looked unconvincing in parts despite gaining promotion back to the Premier League, and have looked like rookies in the league again.
Importance of Sheffield United Playing Fulham
Six Pointer at Between Sheffield United and Fulham
The last time Sheffield United hosted Fulham in the top flight was in early 2007. Back then, Fulham had players like Vincenzo Montella and Luis Boa Morte in their ranks. Kenny Jackett was Swansea City manager, and Greece were European champions. Goals from Jon Stead and Michael Tonge helped the Blades to a 2-0 home win, in a season in which both sides battled to stay up.
Calling this meeting ‘a battle between two sides to stay up’ – 13 years later – does seem hasty. The season is only four games old and will be subject to much change. But it’s not too much to say this game has massive importance, even early on.
For Sheffield United, it’s about making sure they haven’t been found out. Second season syndrome is regularly spewed for clubs in the league. Many will point out Ipswich Town in 2001/02, and Birmingham City in 2010/11, among others, as indication. And many are already using that as a stick to beat Chris Wilder and his side. Their failure to provide any real attacking threat in their four league defeats so far is suggesting to many that they need to come up with something. Beating Fulham won’t change those claims, but it will get them back on their feet.
Fulham’s Need for Victory
When Fulham went up in the 2017/18 season, they came up playing breath-taking fast-paced attacking football. They followed that up the following campaign by spending in excess of £100 million, a move which fell flat on their face. Ten months and three managers later, they were back in the second division, and, frankly, glad to be back.
This time around, they came up without much conviction, and have seemed to go too much the other way, spending little and not making real quality additions. On paper, you could argue Fulham have the worst squad in the league. And they’re not helped by having, in Scott Parker, a manager who’s still to convince. The shift in quality on the field means they can’t get bailouts, and now look off the pace.
Talk of Fulham going straight back down is a possibility, but defeat at Bramall Lane might make that threat look more serious. A defeat against an opponent that hasn’t looked innovative in attack won’t be a good sign, and the dip may well become a slide.
What Comes After This Game?
After the meeting in 2007, Fulham managed to stave off relegation, finishing 16th in the league. Sheffield United, meanwhile, couldn’t quite stay up, going down after losing against Wigan Athletic on the final day of the season.
Are these two teams already in a relegation battle? Maybe. Fulham are one of the favourites to go down, and whatever happens in this game is unlikely to change that. Sheffield United meanwhile, are not quite in the same bracket. But after this game, the Blades have trips to Liverpool and Chelsea, either side of a home game against Manchester City. Lose to Fulham, and it’s not implausible that they head into the next international break still seeking a point.
For morale and form, Sheffield United and Fulham have a lot riding on this game. And perhaps no other teams in Europe with such need come face-to-face this weekend.