Sheffield United are heading for the Championship, and Kevin Hatchard thinks they'll find it tough to contain Aston Villa.
"Villa are averaging five shots on target per game in the Premier League, while only West Brom have given up more shots on target than Sheffield United."
Sheffield United v Aston Villa
Wednesday 03 March, 18:00
Live on BT Sport 1
Reality dawns for sinking Blades
Above all, Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder is a realist, and he knows that the prospect of relegation is looming large. Sunday's home defeat to Liverpool means the Yorkshire side have taken just 11 points from their first 26 games of the campaign. They have scored a paltry 15 goals, and have lost all but five of their games. Painfully, only seven of their 21 losses have been by more than one goal. The tight margins that went their way last term have now gone against them on a consistent basis, and Wilder admits a return to the Championship is likely.
However, Wilder hasn't given up on his players. He insists their body language and effort levels are up to the levels he demands, but admits the quality in both boxes is sometimes lacking. As a lifelong fan of the club, no-one can question Wilder's passion and commitment, and there is no indication that he is under serious pressure.
United have a long list of absentees because of injury, including defenders Jack O'Connell, Chris Basham and John Egan, and midfielder Sander Berge.
Now that Villa are safe, the dreams can begin
It has been a terrific campaign for Aston Villa, and their primary goal of survival has been achieved with plenty to spare. Qualification for Europe isn't beyond Dean Smith's side, and they fully deserve their place in the top half.
Talented attacking players like Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins have been backed up by one of the strongest defensive units in the league, and an excellent goalkeeper in Emi Martinez.
There have been incredible highs, such as the 7-2 demolition of champions Liverpool, and Arsenal have been beaten home and away. There have however been recent reminders that there is still work to do. They were outplayed in a goalless draw at Brighton, and they were swept aside 3-1 at home by West Ham.
Grealish is still struggling with injury, so it remains to be seen if he'll be ready in time. Douglas Luiz, Ross Barkley and Morgan Sanson are all pushing for starts in midfield.
Road warriors worth considering
Villa are the favourites to take the victory here at 2.186/5, and I can see why. They have racked up seven away wins in the Premier League this season, and they have kept clean sheets in all seven of those successes. If you want to boost the price, you could back Villa to win to nil at 5/2 on the Sportsbook. United haven't scored in their last three top-flight matches, they drew a blank in the reverse fixture, and they have failed to score in 14 of their 26 Premier League outings.
Enterprising Villa can apply the pressure
Wilder admits his team isn't defending anywhere near as well as they were last season, and the stats suggest he is correct. Only West Brom have allowed more opposition shots on target, and the Blades are allowing an average of just over five shots on target per game.
If we look at Aston Villa's attacking production, they average 5.08 shots on target per game, which at time of writing was the fifth-highest average in the division. For context, the top figure belongs to Manchester United, who average 5.46 shots on target per 90, so Villa aren't far behind.
Although Villa didn't have their shooting boots on in the reverse fixture (a 1-0 victory), they did manage a total of 13 goal attempts. I think they can create opportunities here, and I'll back them to have at least five shots on target on the Sportsbook at 6/5.
Watkins always worth considering
Ollie Watkins has netted ten Premier League goals this term, and the former Brentford forward has shown he belongs at this level. He has found the net in four of his last eight games, and because the markets don't expect many goals here, he is priced at an attractive 15/8 to score.
Kevin Hatchard 2020-21 English Football P/L