Sheffield United 3-0 Chelsea
- Goals: David McGoldrick (£5.4m) x2, Ollie McBurnie (£5.5m)
- Assists: McBurnie, Enda Stevens (£5.1m)
- Bonus: McGoldrick x3, McBurnie x2, Dean Henderson (£5.2m) x1
Sheffield United kept all manner of European permutations open, for themselves and others, with a resounding win over Chelsea.
Champions League football remains within the grasp of the visitors, and still not impossible for the hosts, after a 3-0 victory that showcased the best of the Blades and the worst of their opponents.
There was a time, in a galaxy far, far away, when Chris Wilder’s team emerged from lockdown as if already on the beach.
Since then, an unbeaten run of four matches involving wins over Spurs, Wolves and now the Blues, has been a stirring declaration of their intent to finish the season as well as they started it.
Two goals from David McGoldrick (£5.4m) – his first in the Premier League for the Blades – and one for fellow striker Ollie McBurnie (£5.5m) saw off a Chelsea side heavy on possession but light on pretty much everything else.
Frank Lampard’s men had 74% of the ball, and 64% of possession in the final third, and yet United matched them for penalty area touches (19) and shots on target (four) – a classic example of it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
The way the Blades do it involves a concerted team-wide effort to press the ball, from back to front, and that hustle was in evidence when they took the lead in the first half.
Jorginho (£4.9m), making a rare start, was immediately put under pressure as he attempted to bring the ball out of his own penalty area, a cross was swung in and McGoldrick scored on the rebound after Kepa Arrizabalaga (£5.4m) made a fine save from McBurnie’s deflected shot.
That combination benefited just 0.5% of Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers because, let’s face it, hoping for major returns from Sheffield United strikers is the stuff of Fantasy.
Instead, the out-of-position delights of John Lundstram (£4.6m), who made a welcome return from injury with a 27-minute cameo yesterday, and regular points from his fellow defenders have been the way forward this season.
A second straight clean sheet meant solid returns for the likes of George Baldock (£5.0m and 11.5%-owned) and goalkeeper Dean Henderson (£5.2m and 15.9%), with the latter bringing in extra points from four saves and a bonus.
Of those four stops, all were of the regulation variety as Chelsea’s well-owned forward line of Christian Pulisic (£7.3m and 11.7%) and Tammy Abraham (£7.4m and 14.7%) never got into the groove, managing just the one shot on target between them.
The Blades were considerably more ruthless, and their second goal was as simple as it was effective.
The 213,000+ managers who had bought into the free-scoring Willian (£7.3m) for the Gamweek did so not for his defensive prowess, which was just as well when he was left baffled by a one-two that released Enda Stevens (£5.1m) on the left.
The wing-back put over a cross straight onto the head of McBurnie, who buried the chance in the bottom corner.
That was a second assist in four Gameweeks for Stevens, bringing in a nine-point haul on the day. He’s had a remarkably consistent campaign – his 139 points have him fifth in FPL’s defenders standings, but he’s not had a double-digit return all season.
That level of understatement might explain why he’s owned by just 3.6% of Fantasy managers.
Lampard had seen enough by half-time, swapping from four at the back to a formation, involving three centre-halves and wing-backs, that matched up with United’s.
It stirred a revival, of sorts, after the break, but as they pushed for a way back into the match, so they left themselves more vulnerable to a counter-attack; a situation the hosts were happy to exploit all night long.
McGoldrick was on hand to take advantage of one such break when he steered home a cross from substitute Lys Mousset (£4.4m) that Antonio Rudiger (£5.9m) made a horrible mess of clearing.
The pair then combined to expose Chelsea again, only for Mousset to dink the ball over Kepa but wide of the post after being sent through by his partner’s pass.
Conceding four goals would have been harsh on Chelsea, but they’ve been defensively poor all season, with seven clean sheets overall – only three teams have a worse tally – and just the one shut-out in 18 away games.
Lampard, post-match, acknowledged his side’s shortcomings.
They’re disappointing goals, mistakes that led to goals, individual errors, and if you do that you will lose football matches against good teams. They were better than us physically, in the mind and with the ball, so you lose the game. They were stronger than us. We don’t have crowds at the minute so you hear every voice and all I could hear was Sheffield United voices, so they were stronger in that sense.
He then attempted to shift focus onto a future which will involve a mighty fight to secure a Champions League spot.
I’m concerned about how we performed and I learned a lot about that. We cannot approach Norwich or Man United or Liverpool or Wolves in the same way we did today.
The home match-up with now-relegated Norwich on Tuesday will surely persuade most Fantasy managers to hold onto their Chelsea assets for one Gameweek more.
The Liverpool and Wolves fixtures that follow could be an entirely different matter, with the misfiring Abraham a particular concern for his owners.
The striker has just a goal and an assist to his name in the six matches since football returned, and he’s blanked in both of the games he’s started.
Only an emphatic display against the Canaries is likely to halt the five-Gameweek run of net sales he’s endured.
The opposite is true of Sheffield United’s key players.
Excitable press conference questions talked of the team’s Champions League prospects, but Wilder was never going to be so emotional.
It’s dangerous to get carried away – the game finds you out if you take your foot off the gas, but the players are enjoying the challenge and Leicester we will have to roll out another big result.
Instead, he reiterated his faith in keeping things tight at the back.
I am not embarrassed to talk about our defensive record. You have to get it right defensively to stand a chance of getting it right at the other end. We have to have a structure and an identity – players have to have a desire to put their bodies on the line and defend properly and we did that.
Three wins and a heap of other results going their way will be required for United to secure a Champions League spot, but the key point is that the side is clearly in form and up for the fight.
That should make their defensive assets particularly attractive, with trips to Leicester and Southampton and a home match against Everton perfectly reasonable shouts for more clean sheets.
And could even Lundstram bring in some more points for his 29.3% ownership? Sweet dreams are made of these…
Sheffield United XI (5-3-2): Henderson; Basham (Jagielka 68), O’Connell. Egan, Stevens, Norwood; Baldock, Berge (Lundstram 63), Osborn; McGoldrick, McBurnie (Mousset 63).
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; James (Hudson-Odoi 75), Christensen (Rudiger 45), Zouma, Azpilicueta; Barkley (Loftus-Cheek 78), Jorginho, Mount (Alonso 45); Willian, Abraham, Pulisic (Giroud 66).
FPL LESSONS LEARNED FROM GAMEWEEK 35+
- Norwich City 0-4 West Ham United
- Watford 2-1 Newcastle United
- Liverpool 1-1 Burnley
- Sheffield United 3-0 Chelsea
- Brighton and Hove Albion 0-5 Manchester City
- Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-0 Everton
- Aston Villa 2-0 Crystal Palace
- Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal
- Bournemouth 4-1 Leicester City
- Manchester United 2-2 Southampton
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