Back-to-back fixtures at the Bridge this weekend conclude with visitors from South Yorkshire in town. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton tee-up Saturday’s tea-time game...
Chelsea’s final fixture before the last international break of the year is the club’s third Saturday 5.30pm kick-off of the campaign, but the first at Stamford Bridge. The previous two were the draws at West Bromwich (3-3) and Manchester United (0-0).
The UK is now under national restrictions until 2 December but it is defending that the Blues seem to have locked down at the moment following a harvest of 10 goals without reply over the past five matches.
Sheffield United arrive at Stamford Bridge with the lowest goals total in the top flight this season, but are something of a bogey side. They have scored twice in five of their six most recent league visits and remained unbeaten against the Londoners last season.
While the 19th-placed Blades have had a clear week to prepare for the trip to London, for Chelsea this fixture comes just three days after Champions League action. Fortunately the 3-0 win against Rennes was less taxing than it might have been and Frank Lampard was able to take players with a heavier workload off early, making full use of the five permitted substitutions.
Edouard Mendy is aiming to become the first Chelsea goalkeeper to secure clean sheets in each of his opening four league matches.
— KEY STAT
Chelsea team news
The statistic tells a great story and does not lie: Mendy has helped Chelsea achieve five clean sheets in succession for the first time in 10 years. Back in October 2010 it was Petr Cech who was performing with the same calm assurance.
The trick now is to keep that run going and string together the victories that will lift the Blues up from seventh place in the Premier League. The firepower is clearly there, with Timo Warner already just three away from double figures for goals in all competitions.
In midweek Tammy Abraham also became the first English player to find the net in three straight starts for Chelsea in the Champions League since our head coach, Frank Lampard, in 2008. The striker has registered a goal or assist every 50 minutes this season. Overall, Chelsea have hit the mark with 18.8 per cent of attempts on goal (16/85), the third highest rate in the Premier League this season.
Moreover, 11 Chelsea players have scored and set up a tea-mate so far this campaign – more than any Premier League rival. Jorginho and Werner lead the way with four, alongside centre-back Kurt Zouma (all with three goals, one assist).
Zouma and fellow defenders Reece James and Ben Chilwell have chipped in with a healthy five league goals between them – almost a third of our total. Chilly, our recently recruited left-back, is responsible for the most assists (two).
Goals and assists in the Premier League
Chelsea 11 players
West Ham 10
Manchester City 9
Aston Villa 8
Crystal Palace 6
Manchester Utd 6
West Bromwich 6
Sheffield Utd 4
However, Kai Havertz’s positive Covid test raises a personnel issue for Frank Lampard just when the 4-3-3 set-up was looking set fair. Playing wide right midfield the German was instrumental in making the system work, but the Chelsea coach may feel someone like Hakim Ziyech could do a similar job in his absence.
It remains to be seen whether Christian Pulisic has recovered fully from the slight hamstring pain felt in the warm-up before the Blues’ comprehensive victory at Burnley last weekend.
Second season Sheffield
Sheffield United will hope to avoid emulating fellow Yorkshire club Huddersfield Town, the last side to suffer the drop after two seasons in the Premier League and who they replaced in 2019.
The Blades impressed with their organisation and quality before the last lockdown, not to mention Chris Wilder’s novel approaches on set-plays and tactics. They finished the season ninth, a place and two points behind Arsenal, but the warning signs were there.
Their current winless streak extends back to July after the 3-0 beating of the Blues, so the second season drop in form actually struck towards the end of their first. Without being prolific in their first season (averaging 1.2 goals per game), United kept their heads above water by conceding very few.
Unfortunately for them, events have removed much of last season’s impressive rearguard: centre-back Jack O’Connell (injury), goalie Dean Henderson (end of loan) and wing-back John Lundstram (non-renewal of contract). And of course rivals clubs will have worked on ways to counter Wilder’s system.
With last season’s joint leading scorer Lys Mousset also out, striker Oliver McBurnie has been partnered by youngster Rhian Brewster, their big signing from Liverpool. Of their forwards, though, only David McGoldrick has found the net.
One of the Blades’ most admired performers has been Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu, but he is ineligible against his parent club. Last weekend against Manchester City Wilder replaced the promising young central midfielder with Oliver Norwood in preparation for this trip.
How to watch Chelsea-Sheffield United
This match will be covered live by Sky Sports in the UK. To find the relevant broadcaster where you are overseas, see the Premier League’s broadcast schedule pages.
Bad starts and good finishes
This is Sheffield United’s worst start to a campaign since 1975/76, when after seven games they languished in bottom place, again with one point but a worse goal difference. Relegation always looked inevitable for Tony Currie and co. back then, and was duly delivered in March with six games remaining.
Only nine Premier League clubs have ever collected one or fewer points after seven matches, including Fulham and the Blades. The good news for the current pair is that of the previous seven, Portsmouth 2009/10, Sheffield Wednesday 1999/00 and Manchester City 1995/96 were relegated by the end of the season, but the majority – Crystal Palace 2017/18, Southampton 1998/99, Sunderland 2013/14 and Newcastle 1999/00 – survived. The Glaziers and Magpies both finished as high as 11th.
There is another lesson from the steel city club’s own history. In 1990/91 Dave Bassett’s newly promoted Blades were winless and bottom until taking three points three days before Christmas. They then embarked on a run that included seven straight wins (including a 1-0 at home to the Blues in March) and finished the season 13th.
No respite after international break
The final international games of 2020 will take place after this weekend. When club action resumes there will be no free midweek until just before the festive season, during which Chelsea will navigate three matches over eight days. The Blues will finally pause for breath after 2 January and before 9/10 January, when the FA Cup begins.
No one likes to exit a trophy-chase early, but for the six Premier League clubs contesting the Carabao Cup quarter-finals as well as Europe (which excludes Everton) the congestion is inevitably worse.
The last-eight games take place in the week starting 21 December, meaning no pre-Christmas let-up, and the one-off semi-finals are scheduled for the first midweek of January a fortnight later. Chelsea have league fixtures against three of the clubs involved – Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham – around those dates.
The matchday programme
Former Ajax star Hakim Ziyech offers insights on adapting to the big time in a new country in the official Sheffield United programme, available for £3.50 plus postage. You can also order back issues from our previous home fixtures this season.
|14||West Ham United||7||2||2||3||13||10||3||8|
|16||Brighton and Hove Albion||7||1||2||4||11||14||-3||5|
|18||West Bromwich Albion||7||0||3||4||6||16||-10||3|
Premier League fixtures
Brighton v Burnley 5.30pm (Sky Sports Box Office)
Southampton v Newcastle 8pm (Sky Sports)
Everton v Man Utd 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Crystal Palace v Leeds 3pm (BT Sport Box Office)
Chelsea v Sheffield Utd 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
West Ham v Fulham 8pm (BT Sport Box Office)
West Brom v Tottenham 12pm (Sky Sports Box Office)
Leicester v Wolves 2pm (Sky Sports)
Man City v Liverpool 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
Arsenal v Aston Villa 7.15pm (Sky Sports Box Office)