Rivals Leeds United and Sheffield United target Premier League upsets

On paper, Sheffield United and Leeds United should both be returning home with their tails between their legs. But football is played on grass, not paper.

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The Yorkshire duo are away to what the table tells us are the best and third-best teams in the Premier League this weekend but this season more than ever, England’s top division has been at its unpredictable best, and both visitors had much-needed midweek wins to lift their spirits.

In the case of Blades manager Chris Wilder, who takes his team to Manchester City this afternoon, his good mood was written all over his face in yesterday’s pre-match press conference, laughing off his chances of victory against Pep Guardiola’s side, who have won their last 11 matches.

“Robbie Savage was doing the BT coverage of West Brom (in Tuesday’s 5-0 defeat to City) and the commentator said, ‘If Chris Wilder is watching this, how does he stop Man City?’” he recalled with a twinkle in his eye.

“Robbie Savage said, ‘He’ll come up with a plan.’

“I was chuckling to myself and I texted him and said, ‘Rob, I haven’t a clue. Give us a clue because I haven’t got a clue how to stop this side!’

“I don’t think anybody has an answer to how they’re playing at the moment because they’re playing that well, but we’ll do our best as we always do.

“We’ll have some sort of plan, but it comes from all angles. I think their goalkeeper (Ederson) could get in our team at the minute because he’s such a good footballer!”

In reality, though, with a 10-point gap to safety, the bottom-of-the-table Blades cannot afford to write off any opportunity to pick up points, and behind the jokes Wilder knows it.

Wednesday’s 2-1 win at Manchester United, their fourth in five matches in all competitions, has lifted morale but Wilder was quick to warn: “It can’t be a one-off if we want to make it uncomfortable for the teams above.”

Leeds’s 2-1 win at Newcastle United ended a morale-sapping run of three defeats during which they had started to look slightly leggy.

A 10-day break, then an important win over Steve Bruce’s Magpies was just the tonic they needed ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Leicester City, the club who famously confounded expectations by winning the title in 2016, and are putting themselves in a position to do so again. Brendan Rodgers’s side are just two points behind City, who have a game in hand.

Typically, Leeds coach Marcelo Bielsa was refusing to weigh into the debate about the Foxes’ title prospects – or anyone else’s, for that matter – but even without the injured Jamie Vardy, the pivotal figure as they won 4-1 at Elland Road in November, he sees them as a formidable attacking force.

“The thing that stands out the most about Leicester is the way they combine and elaborate to attack,” said the Argentinian as he looked ahead to tomorrow’s game in the East Midlands. “I think that’s the most dangerous thing about them.”

Like Wilder, he was also impressed by what he saw of his upcoming opponents, saying: “They circulated the ball very quickly and (had) a very marked offensive style. They played to try and attack and to position themselves in the opposition’s half.”

For both clubs, the weekend offers formidable challenges. Fortunately they both go into them in good spirits.

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