Sheffield United v Wolves
Wednesday 08 July, 18:00
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Demanding Wilder has set the bar high
There are managers in the Premier League and beyond who will constantly shield their players from criticism, looking to deflect the flak and change the narrative. The internal message may be completely different, but in public, they'll never explicitly criticise individuals.
That cannot be said of Sheffield United's Chris Wilder, who is happy to demand more of his players when necessary, but never in a way that feels petty or unjustified. When impressive goalkeeper Dean Henderson made a match-losing gaffe against Liverpool, Wilder used his post-match interview to suggest the on-loan Manchester United player would have to improve his concentration levels to play for his country. When defender John Egan smashed in a superb equaliser in the weekend's draw at Burnley, Wilder stated that Egan should have scored more often this season.
This pursuit of improvement has served Wilder's beloved Blades well this term. They have been safe from relegation for a long time, and with five games to go they are level on points with Tottenham and just a point behind Arsenal. Europa League qualification is still well within their grasp, and that would represent a huge overachievement. They have lost just nine of their 33 top-flight matches, and only Leicester City and champions Liverpool have better defensive records.
John Lundstram, John Fleck and Luke Freeman are all still struggling with injury, but defender Jack O'Connell is in contention for a start after returning to action. Billy Sharp is pushing for a start in attack after a cute flick-on which set up Egan's thunderous strike at Turf Moor.
Wolves fail big audition
Like Sheffield United, Wolves have made enormous strides since winning promotion from the Championship. They are still in the Europa League, and are regarded as one of the favourites to win the competition, trading at 7.613/2 on the Betfair Exchange. It says a lot that they were so disappointed to lose at home to Arsenal on Saturday, a game that would have seen them move to within two points of the top four had they won it. Manager Nuno Espirito Santo bemoaned a lack of urgency from his players in key moments.
Defeat to the Gunners ended a three-match winning streak in the Premier League, but there is still so much to play for. Wolves visit fourth-placed Chelsea on the final day of the season, so if they can move within striking distance of the Blues between now and then, they could still finish above them and perhaps earn a golden ticket to the Champions League. If they slump in their final five matches though, they could see a clutch of clubs pass them and therefore they could miss out on a Europa League slot. For an upwardly mobile club like Wolves, that would be a hammer blow.
Nuno has no fresh injury or suspension concerns, and it remains to be seen whether he will react to the Arsenal defeat with changes. If he selects a more attacking 3-4-3, Diogo Jota could come in for Leander Dendoncker.
Wolves too short to take the win?
Wolves have won four of their last five Premier League away matches, and at time of writing only three sides had won more often on the road. On that basis alone, you can see why they are trading at 2.245/4 for the win, but this could be a tough encounter. The Blades have lost just one of their last eight home matches in the Premier League, and they narrowly won the Expected Goals battle in the reverse fixture, drawing 1-1 at Molineux. They have only lost two of their last nine top-flight matches overall.
If you think United can pick up a positive result, you could back Home and Draw in the Double Chance market at 1.794/5.
Both defences could be breached
While both of these sides have proven to be defensively strong this term, Both Teams To Score seems over-priced to me at 2.3211/8. Both teams have found the net in ten of Wolves' last 15 away games at this level, and while Wolves have kept a lot of clean sheets recently, I think the Blades that score at least once here. If you look at their games at Bramall Lane, Chris Wilder's team has scored in 12 of their last 14 in all competitions, only drawing blanks against Newcastle United and Manchester City in that spell.
On that basis, it's also worth considering backing Over 2.5 Goals, which is trading at a hefty 2.8415/8. That bet has landed in four of Sheffield United's last five matches in all competitions. It's also worth bearing in mind that draws aren't much good to either team at this stage, and they can both afford to take a few more risks.