Manchester City-Sheffield United Preview
There will be graft and grift from Sheffield United in Wednesday's match at Bramall Lane versus two-time champions Manchester City, but goals against the elite of the Premier League may continue to be elusive.
The Blades (8-9-6) are only one point out of fifth and six back of Chelsea for the fourth and final Champions League start as the narrative has swung from merely hoping for survival in the top flight to fighting to a top-half finish to possibly staying among these lofty spots for the long haul.
One thing Sheffield United have done to help their chances is nick points against the Big Six. They have seven points from eight such matches (1-4-3) after drawing Arsenal 1-1 at the Emirates on Saturday. John Fleck gave the Blades a share of the spoils with his volley on 83 minutes, though manager Chris Wilder admitted that even one point may have been a bit generous given his side's performance.
"I don't think we were anywhere near our best today," Wilder told The Star. "The result is better than the performance, the game was not put to bed by the opposition. When teams don't put you to bed, we have an opportunity to get something from the game. We need to play a lot better than that for us to regularly pick up points."
Of their six losses on the season, three have come to top-two clubs Liverpool and Manchester City, including a 2-0 defeat in the reverse fixture Dec. 29 when they failed to register a shot on target while conceding both goals in the second half. The common thread in the three defeats was a lack of offence - the Blades have shipped more goals (5) than had shots on target (4), though those matches are more about the clear chasm in talent in attack.
Exhibit A of such talent is Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero. The newly minted non-English top scorer in Premier League history, Aguero had a brace Saturday versus Crystal Palace that nearly carried the Cityzens (15-3-5) to victory, but a late own goal by Fernandinho resulted in a 2-2 draw that left Pep Guardiola's side 16 points adrift of leaders Liverpool, who also have a match in hand.
It was 90 minutes of frustration for Guardiola, who did not get the full three points that would have made a 49th birthday a happy one. While Palace's threatening moments were few in number, they were amplified by the success rate.
"We tried to do everything," Guardiola told City's official website. "The spirit was there. We tried and tried. We came back and it's a pity we dropped points like that. But it's football.
"They had two, three chances and scored. In general we controlled the games against them, but you have to avoid mistakes."
Aguero, whose 20 goals in all competitions tie him with Raheem Sterling for the team lead, is averaging a staggering 1.23 goals per 90 minutes. That average is 1.24 in Premier League play, and the Argentina international moved into second in the race for the Golden Boot with 15 following his brace, two behind Leicester City's Jamie Vardy for the Premier League lead.
Aguero, who is City's all-time leading scorer, also crossed the 250-goal milestone in the draw and moved into sole possession of fourth on the all-time Premier League scoring list with 179. He is eight shy of Andrew Cole for third and also bagged the match-winner in the reverse fixture last month.
Updated January 19, 2020