This is it. After all the times we have said it, this really has to be the most important game of the season so far. It’s 19th vs. 20th – and neither team have won a game so far this season. Goals may come at a premium, desperation will likely not.
Last weekend ended in heartache for the Baggies once again against Manchester United after an agonising late goal against Spurs saw Albion miss out on a crucial point. A series of shocking VAR decisions at Old Trafford left Slaven Bilic and his men bewildered about how they have yet to pick up a point from their last three games.
Sheffield United, meanwhile, come off the back of a 1-0 loss against West Ham and so just like Albion, they will likely come out all guns blazing.
Team News and Predicted XI
Albion have a near-full strength squad for the game against the Blades. Jake Livermore and Kieran Gibbs missed out last weekend after contracting COVID-19 and it appears recovery may be taking longer than expected for one of them – who that is, we are unsure.
Neither are likely to start if this is the case – even though these are professional athletes, the virus appears to be affecting them just like everyone else; Filip Krovinovic dropped to the bench last weekend after contracting it over international break.
There are no new fresh injuries to report, though Bilic recently revealed that Sam Field also contracted COVID-19 and has recovered, so combined with his knee injury recovery, he should not be too far off a first-team return.
The big question is then, will Bilic stick with the back five against a non-big six team? Given our performances, there is a case for it any. But with Livermore likely out, he would be mad not to.
If he were to revert a back four, Kyle Bartley would likely be the victim in place of Krovinovic to serve in the midfield of a 4-3-3. But given that Sheffield United tend to favour a back five, and without a real holding midfielder, Bilic will surely stick with the 5-2-3.
Albion’s Predicted XI: (5-2-3)
The Blades are similarly at near-full strength; Chris Wilder said that Enda Stevens would be touch and go, while defender Jack O’Connell remains their only long-term absentee.
Lys Mousset will return to the squad having recovered from a long-term ankle injury over the last few months.
Still, like Bilic, Wilder is likely to stick with the system that almost earned them a point against West Ham last weekend, so the line-up might be fairly predictable.
United’s Predicted XI: (5-3-2)
The Game Plan
Like we said, goals will come at a premium in this game, since the Blades have managed just four goals so far this season. Rhian Brewster, their big summer signing, has not hit off the mark yet; neither has Oli Burke, but there really is no surprise in that at all.
Looking at the Blades’ midfield, it seems like that is where the battle will be won and lost. Albion will have to be extra careful if Livermore is not fit and ready, so Romaine Sawyers will have to continue his improved performance from the game against the Red Devils.
It would not be a surprise to see Krovinovic back in the starting XI in place of Grady Diangana, with either former Blade Callum Robinson or Matheus Pereira up top. Whatever the system is though, the Baggies will do well to silence Sander Berge, who is surely earning beyond his keep at Bramall Lane.
Oli McBurnie and David McGoldrick aren’t the best strikers Albion are going to come up against this season. This may be harsh, but when you look at their XI, beyond Berge, you really do wonder how did they do so well last season?
If Bilic does stick with the back five, Darnell Furlong and Conor Townsend will be as important as ever as wing-backs, since Wilder & co. adopt the same system, so will likely be trying to cancel each other out all game.
Bilic will have his boys fired and ready for the gun-fight both managers have spoken so passionately about. There is no time to be timid or tentative, this is the time to be explosive. You do get the feeling that the opening 20 minutes are going to be crucial in setting the tone of this one, since it will all be about who comes out more lively, more aggressive, more up-for-it.
It will not be easy, but with so much on the line, this surely has to be the game where everything finally clicks into place down in B71.
Match Prediction: West Brom 2-1 Sheffield United