Everything that you need to know ahead of Manchester United’s midweek Premier League match:
(1) Wednesday brings another tough contest with major Champions League implications. One week into Project Restart, the Reds are clinging to fifth place — ahead of Wolves on just goal differential. Sheffield United sit two points back, while Tottenham Hotspur still lurk within striking distance. The chase for fifth (tentatively the final Champions League spot) looks like it will go down to the wire.
(2) Last week, United resumed their season with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Spurs. Steven Bergwijn put the hosts ahead in the first half, before Bruno Fernandes saved a point with a late penalty. It won’t go down as one of United’s best performances, but nevertheless keeps them in contention for a European place.
(3) Bruno’s spot kick extends the club’s lead for most successful penalties in the 2019/20 Premier League. The Reds have been awarded 11 penalties in league play this season, converting seven of them. Both marks lead the league in their respective categories.
Penchester United— Goal (@goal) June 19, 2020
Since the start of last season, Manchester United have both taken (23) and scored (16) more penalties than any other Premier League side pic.twitter.com/p4Rq2UdE1d
(4) Manchester United legend Roy Keane was not terribly impressed by the draw at Spurs, feeling that it puts the Reds at a disadvantage in their fight to qualify for the Champions League:
If you’re in the United dressing room, I’d be disappointed. They’re running out of games and, with Leicester and Chelsea, they’re running out of opportunities to close that gap. I think it’s a great opportunity now for Chelsea to make it an even worse result for United, by winning [at Aston Villa on Sunday].
(5) And, unfortunately, Chelsea did just that. Their 2-1 win at Villa Park moved the Blues five points ahead of Manchester United. That may or may not be significant, owing to Manchester City’s pending appeal against their two-year European ban. If upheld, Manchester United need only to hang onto fifth place to qualify for the Champions League. If UEFA reverse course, though, the Reds must get above Chelsea into fourth to regain a place at Europe’s main table. UEFA’s decision is expected sometime in July.
(6) Two big questions for Wednesday: Will Victor Lindelöf be fit to play in central defense after limping off the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium pitch last week? Should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bring Paul Pogba back into the starting lineup at the expense of either Fred or Scott McTominay?
(7) Pre-COVID-19, both Manchester United and Sheffield United were in fine fettle. But neither side has won since play resumed, with the Blades held to a draw at Aston Villa last week and then dropping a shocker at Newcastle on Sunday. By blowing the match at Newcastle, Chris Wilder’s side wasted the game-in-hand advantage that they held over Manchester United.
(8) Of course, criticizing Sheffield United for the 0-0 draw at Aston Villa seems a bit unfair. A blatant Blades goal went unnoticed by the supposedly infallible Hawk-Eye goal-line technology system, robbing Wilder and co. of two points. If called correctly, Sheffield United would now be even on points with Manchester United in fifth. Hawk-Eye issued an apology for the mishap afterwards, but the Blades are reportedly mulling legal options if the no-call costs them a place in Europe for next season.
Sky suggest that the goalline technology wasn't working in the first half, and has now been fixed. Hawkeye apparently buzzed for the goal while the referee was in the dressing room at half time. Very harsh on Sheffield United #AVLSHU https://t.co/qAzyO6qXLm— James Nalton (@JDNalton) June 17, 2020
(9) If Sheffield United feel aggrieved about the Villa result, it can be nothing but embarrassment for Sunday’s 3-0 loss at Newcastle. The Blades were dominated in all phases — especially after defender John Egan was sent off for tugging Joelinton’s shirt. He will serve his one-match suspension on Wednesday, missing the trip to Old Trafford.
(10) Goalkeeper Dean Henderson will also be unavailable for Sheffield United. On loan from Manchester United, the 23-year-old backstop cannot suit up against his parent club and will be sorely missed by the Blades. Henderson is tied for the Premier League lead in clean sheets and has emerged as one of the hottest young goalkeeping properties in football. Expect Simon Moore to fill in between the sticks for Sheffield United on Wednesday.
(11) The Sheffield United backline, which ranks second-best in the Premier League in goals allowed, might also be without the injured Jack O’Connell. He’s missed the last two games and should be considered a major doubt for the Manchester United match. O’Connell plays a big role in Chris Wilder’s innovative overlapping center backs system, further complicating his plans to pull off an upset at Old Trafford.