A pair of clubs who have performed very differently to pre-season expectations square off when Sheffield United host West Ham at Bramall Lane on Friday (3pm ET).
Prior to the start of the campaign, Sheffield United were considered a favorite for Premier League relegation but they find themselves in European contention up in eighth. That is where West Ham wanted to be, but they are instead just two points off the relegation places.
Sheffield United had the joint stingiest defensive record in the Championship last season and they have been successfully able to carry that solidity into the top flight. Only the top two, Leicester and Liverpool, have conceded less goals than their total of 21. Their underlying statistics pretty much back them up as one of the league’s better defensive sides.
Chris Wilder’s team have a below average attack, but they are able to keep their matches tight enough that they don’t necessarily require much more than that to prevail. Six of the seven wins they have recorded to date have been to nil, while their largest losing margin has been two goals. They are a well-organised and thoroughly competent side.
Sheffield Utd come into this Friday match on the back of consecutive defeats, but given that they were to Liverpool and reigning champions Manchester City, they hardly provide much reason for concern. That they have only lost six times so far, and that four of those defeats came to the current top three, further underlines how at home they have made themselves in the Premier League. Yet it is just four seasons since they were down in the third tier.
The likelihood is that they will prove not quite good enough to maintain a push for a European qualifying place throughout the second half of the campaign. Even a high mid-table finish would represent much more than was hoped for before the season got underway and an excellent return on investment. The Blades’ results and performances have further bolstered Wilder’s reputation as an innovative and successful head coach.
His opposite number on Friday was once thought of similarly, but the modern perception of David Moyes is very different. He undoubtedly did excellent work on a meagre budget during his 11-year spell at Everton, but subsequent failures at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland have cast him in a much less favorable light.
Moyes did do the job asked of him when West Ham first brought him in midway through the 2017-18 season, steering them free of relegation trouble. The club decided to entrust the full-time position to Manual Pellegrini. Two years later, after a disastrous first half of the season under Pellegrini, they have again turned to Moyes, this time on an 18-month contract.
Quite how a head coach who built a reputation as a steady, long-term builder now finds himself positioned as a mid-season survival expert is one to ponder, but Moyes certainly got his second reign off to a good start on New Year’s Day. He snapped a six-match winless streak on home soil for the Hammers by overseeing a 4-0 thrashing of Bournemouth.
The goals got the headlines, and there was some delight in seeing big summer signing Sebastian Haller score just his second league goal since early October, but Moyes will also have been happy with the degree to which his side curtailed their visitors at the other end. A West Ham side who had conceded twice or more in seven of their previous 10 matches limited Bournemouth to just three shots.
If West Ham can tighten up defensively, at both a top-line level and in terms of the quality and quantity of chances they are conceding, they have enough attacking talent in their squad to avoid relegation. There was, after all, a reason why they weren’t among the pre-season favorites with the best online sportsbooks in the USA for the drop. That seems like the sort of thing Moyes should be capable of fixing.
Our Preview’s Sheffield Utd vs West Ham Predictions & Betting Picks Opinion
Friday’s match is likely to be a pretty tight encounter decided by small margins. The Blades’ greater familiarity with their approach will probably prove decisive.
- Bet on Sheffield United to win in a match featuring under 3.5 goals @ +155 (31/20) with Bovada.