With the Premier League schedule condensed a bit due to European competition for six clubs, the Championship gets the opportunity to shine this weekend. Our “Match of the Week” kicks things off tonight in the “Battle at Bramall Lane,” with Sheffield United hosting West Bromwich Albion in a matchup of two Top 5 clubs.
Both clubs have been consistently in playoff position all season, and both have even topped the league at points this season. It should be one of the more exciting matches this weekend, and we should expect at least a few goals from two of the most prolific scoring teams in the Championship.
Let’s take a look at the clubs:
Sheffield United earned the coveted title of Dark Horse from us earlier in the season, and thus far have been one of the few so feted to avoid a slump afterwards. They are currently tied with Derby County with 37 points on the season (11-4-6), and are in third place due to a +10 goal differential. They’ve been about equal at home as on the road, securing 18 points at Bramall Lane (5-3-2) with a +6 goal differential. They are five points behind Leeds United for that coveted second place and automatic promotion.
West Brom is one point behind Sheffield United, with a 10-6-5 record. They are much more prolific scorers, netting a league-leading 44 goals on the season, which is good enough for a +14 goal differential. They are much more prolific at home than on the road, so as the visiting club they may be at a disadvantage. They are 4-3-3 on the road with only 15 goals scored, so most of their scoring damage has come in the friendly confines of The Hawthorns.
Opponents in Common
With only one match remaining before the clubs make the turn for the back half of the season, these clubs now share 20 opponents in common as we approach the half way point. Sheffield United has been slightly better in those matchups, netting 36 points (11-3-6) to West Brom’s 33 (9-6-5).
Against the other clubs in the Top 5, West Brom has the slight advantage. Both clubs have defeated league-leading Norwich City, though both matches were early in the season before Norwich rounded into shape. Both clubs also lost the 4th-place Derby County, with the loss being West Brom’s worst on the season (4-1 loss at home). However, West Brom has a victory in hand against Leeds United, while Sheffield United lost just two matches ago to the second place club.
In fact, Sheffield United has consistently found difficulty against the top clubs, while West Brom has tended to lose to the lower table clubs. Sheffield United’s six losses have come to clubs currently in an average position of 7.3. West Brom, on the other hand, has five losses against clubs that average 13.6. Both clubs have been mostly beating the clubs lower than them on the league table, but Sheffield United has been more consistent at doing so.
Club Strengths & Weaknesses
As mentioned previously, West Brom has scored a league-leading 44 goals on the season (2.3 per match). But they have also surrendered 30 goals (1.6 per match), and only have one shutout on the season. They have needed every bit of their +14 goal differential to find the success they have on the season.
All those goals have had to come from somewhere, and three players have scored 28 of those 44 goals. Forwards Jay Rodríguez and Newcastle United-loanee Dwight Gale lead the squad with 10 goals a piece, while midfielder (and Leicester City loanee) Harvey Barnes has scored eight. Six other players have nabbed the other 16 goals.
Sheffield isn’t a scoring slouch either; their 34 goals (1.8 per match) are fifth in the league. They are led by Billy Sharp, who has 11 goals (in 19 matches), with ten other players responsible for the other 23 goals. But they have also surrendered the fifth fewest goals on the season with 24 (1.3 per match), with keeper Dean Henderson (on loan from Manchester United) checking in with six clean sheets.
How I See It
West Brom has been playing better of late; they are currently in the midst of a five match unbeaten streak (3-2-0) that began with a 4-1 victory over Leeds United. Sheffield United, on the other hand, lost to that same Leeds squad to open the month, though they recovered to defeat Reading in their last match.
As noted above, Sheffield United boasts the better defense, at least as it pertains to surrendering goals. But I still expect a scoring onslaught from West Brom, led by those two attackers (should they both start). I don’t expect Henderson to add to his clean sheet total, but I also don’t expect him to let in more than one.
Sheffield should stay ahead of West Brom and come out on top, though it will be close.
My prediction: Sheffield United 2 – 1 West Bromwich Albion
Until next time…