With a limited Championship schedule this week due to FA Cup matches, it was a shock that we will still have a match up between top clubs this week, as you would have expected the top clubs to still be active in that competition.
Norwich City, currently 2nd in the Championship, welcomes 4th place Sheffield United to Carrow Road on Saturday in what should be an exciting matchup. The Canaries shockingly lost to League One club Portsmouth in their third round FA Cup match, while the Blades lost to National League club Barnet, which helped garner the latter Small Club of the Week honors last week. While both Championship clubs probably wish to be alive in the FA Cup, their matchup this weekend will instead give them an opportunity to get ahead of some of those other top clubs that aren’t playing league matches this week.
Let’s take a look at the clubs:
As mentioned, Norwich City is currently in second place with 53 points, one point behind league-leading Leeds United. The Canaries boast a 15-8-5 record overall, an a so-so 1-3-1 in their past five matches. Last week, they defeated Birmingham City 3-1 to end their longest winless stretch of the season at four matches.
Sheffield United, also has 15 wins on the season, but they have lost three more matches, resulting in an overall record of 15-5-8 and 50 points. West Bromwich Albion also has 50 points, and due to a better goal differential (+22 vs +17), is in third place, but both clubs are currently in position to make the promotion playoffs. They are coming off a loss at Swansea City last week, but still boast a 4-0-1 record in thier last five matches.
The Previous Match-Up
When these clubs met in Sheffield at Bramall Lane in August, the Blades came out on top, winning 2-1. Norwich, which had yet to find its early season form at the time, dropped to 21st in the league at the time, while Sheffield United climbed to 7th. With both clubs now fighting it out at the top of the table, it simply reinforces that the way clubs began the season truly has no standing with how they are playing now.
John Egan opened the scoring for the Blades with a header past Norwich keeper Tim Krul in the 9th minute, a lead that lasted less than 20 minutes. Norwich’s Jordan Rhodes equalized in the 26th minute, and the clubs played the remainder of regular time equal, with Norwich finding ample chances in the second half to no avail. Sheffield United’s captain Billy Sharp, however, ensured victory for the Blades in extra time, tapping one in during the 93rd minute to claim the three points.
Home and Away Results
Carrow Road plays host to this one, and the Canaries have been better at home, though four of their five losses have been at home. They are 9-1-4 at home, with a +6 goal differential. They are averaging just over two goals per match (2.07) while surrendering 1.64 goals on defense. In their last five at home, they’ve gone 3-1-1, scoring 15 goals and surrendering 11.
Most clubs struggle away from their home pitch; the Blades are no exception, with the bulk of their losses coming on the road. They are 7-2-5 away from Bramall Lane with a +6 goal differential as well. They don’t really see much difference in scoring on the road, averaging 1.57 goals per match on the road (versus 1.71 per match at home), and are 3-1-1 in their last five matches on the road.
Scorers and Defense, Oh My!
The Canaries are led on offense by Finnish striker Teemu Pukki, who has scored 16 goals on the season, to go along with five assists. Fifteen other players help account for the other 36 goals the club has scored on the season. The Blades are led offensively by the aforementioned Billy Sharp, who has also scored 16 goals on the season. He is supported well by forward David McGoldrick, who has ten goals of his own, as well as three assists.
The Blades boast the better keeper, with Dean Henderson securing nine clean sheets (including four in the last ten matches) and a goals against average of 1.04 while playing every minute in net this season. Tim Krul, the Canaries keeper, has also played every minute in goal for his squad. He hasn’t been terrible, and has eight clean sheets of his own, but only two in the past ten. He has also has let in more goals, but still has a respectible 1.29 GAA. The stronger back end helps to explain why the Blades are one goal better in goal differential, which could help should these teams end up tied in points.
How I See It
A win would move Sheffield United ahead of Norwich in the standings, as well as temporarily put them back in second place with West Bromsich Albion busy with the FA Cup this weekend. With Leeds United expected to win against Rotherham United, the Canaries will need a win to keep pace at the top of the league with the leaders.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the play of the Blades this season, especially over the past couple of months, I don’t know if they will have enough to win this one on the road. However, I believe they can force the draw, which would still move them into third place over the idle (in league play) West Brom, while also allowing Norwich City to maintain its hold on second place.
My prediction: Norwich City 2 – 2 Sheffield United
Actual result: Norwich City 2 – 2 Sheffield United
Until next time…