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Starting XI: Sheffield United vs. Manchester United

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The Reds kick off a busy spell with a trip to the Premier League’s worst side

Sheffield United v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Visionhaus

Everything that you need to know ahead of Thursday’s match:

(1) Well, Manchester derbies don’t come much more boring than that. With both United and City sitting outside the European places — albeit with a game in hand — neither side seemed all that interested in taking any risks in such a monumental match. Pep Guardiola, twice outmaneuvered by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, took a turn for the pragmatic in this one, robbing Manchester United of any chance to strike on the break. Of course, it also kneecapped his own side’s attacking intent, making for one damp squib of a derby.

(2) Happily, Manchester United didn’t really lose any ground this weekend. Leaders Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool were both held to draws, while Chelsea’s two-month unbeaten run came to a crashing halt at Everton. Leicester won 3-0 to move up to third in the table, but the Reds remain right in the thick of a wide-open league title race.

(3) Stat of the week:

(4) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Manchester United’s league position ahead of the busy festive season:

I think Christmas time, with the amount of games in a short space of time, there will be changes in positions. We have a game less, but it’s a big moment in the season, this time around Christmas, then get to the new year, then you have a break with the FA Cup, maybe then we will have a clearer view of how it will look for us. Now we are looking at the Sheffield United and Leeds United games.

(5) Facundo Pellistri Watch: The 18-year-old winger, signed from Penarol on deadline day, is tearing it up with the Manchester United U23s. After scoring against Manchester City at the weekend, he must be getting close to earning a spot on the bench in a first team match. With all due respect to Sheffield United — okay, not really — Thursday would be the perfect opportunity to get Pellistri some Premier League minutes. Some might prefer to hold his debut until the Carabao Cup resumes later this month, but opponents don’t come much easier than this Sheffield United outfit. Ole, roll the dice and give the kid a chance.

(6) Second season syndrome doesn’t even begin to describe the dumpster fire raging at Bramall Lane. Sheffield United are the only club in the Football League still winless and, with just one point through twelve matches, now officially hold the ignominious record for worst start to a season in Premier League history. It’s hard to believe that this same group finished ninth last year and were the toast of the top-flight.

(7) Their slow march back to the Championship continued on Sunday with a 3-0 loss at Southampton. The Blades wilted under Southampton’s frenetic press and, honestly, were fortunate that the scoreline wasn’t even more lopsided. The wheels are well and truly off — Sheffield United failed to muster even a single shot on goal.

(8) Sheffield United owner Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad broke his silence before the Southampton debacle, delivering a strong vote of confidence in Chris Wilder:

When you have to make a decision, you better make it right. I could say that Chris has earned the right to stay because he won us two promotions and then we had a very good season in the first year back in the Premier League. But that is not the reason. That’s not how I look at it. The decision to keep Chris is because I think he is the best manager to take us out of this current situation. I believe in him. I believe if he wasn’t the manager of our team, I would hire him! I believe if the worst comes to the worst and we get relegated, he’ll be the manager to take us back quickly. This year has been tough, but I still have hope. It’s a long season, but we will stick with Chris no matter what.

(9) The Blades’ problems start up front — with a paltry five goals scored through twelve matches. That’s especially poor after the club signed Rhian Brewster from Liverpool for £23.5 million this summer. The 20-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at Swansea City and dazzled with eleven goals, but his scoring boots have deserted him in the Premier League. Wilder mostly uses him off the bench, but Oli McBurnie’s shoulder injury might open the door for Brewster to start on Thursday.

(10) And it’s not any better in the Sheffield United defense, either. With Dean Henderson back at Manchester United after two very successful seasons on loan and a long-term knee injury to center back Jack O’Connell, the Blades have yet to keep a single clean sheet in 2020/21. That’s a far cry from last year, when Sheffield United had the fourth-best defensive record in the Premier League. Southampton ripped them apart with long balls over the top, exposing the liabilities of an O’Connell-less back three.

(11) Star midfielder John Lundstram landed in Chris Wilder’s doghouse after refusing to sign a contract extension in October, setting the stage for him to leave the club at season’s end. That — plus injuries to John Fleck and Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu — unsettled the Sheffield United engine room. Lundstram has been in and out of the starting lineup ever since and it’s really taking its toll on the team. These Blades aren’t good enough to survive a strop between the boss and one of his best players.