Sheffield United host Blackburn Rovers as a completely different outfit from the one in their last meeting


The last time Sheffield United faced Blackburn Rovers, the Blades were in disarray.

A 3-1 defeat in November left the recently relegated side 18th in the second tier as Slavisa Jokanovic was set to endure just a matter of days before being replaced by Paul Heckingbottom.

Now, the situation is far more healthy.

After a thumping 4-0 victory over Swansea City, the South Yorkshire outfit now find themselves in the play-off spots ahead of their second clash of the season against Rovers, with the 44-year-old Englishman making a major difference since replacing Jokanovic in late November.

The Blades have kept a clean sheet in six of their last seven league outings, having taken 22 matches to reach that tally at the beginning of the campaign.

Moreover, since the Barnsley-born head coach was promoted from the under-23 setup, United have picked up 27 out of the 36 points available, making them one of the Championship’s most in-form sides.

With a significant majority of the current squad playing under Chris Wilder in both the Premier League and Championship prior to promotion in 2018/19, Heckingbottom went back to basics and re-implemented a system based on a back three, something that had become notorious at Bramall Lane prior to Jokanovic’s arrival.

Whether that be a 3-4-2-1, 3-5-2 or 3-4-3, the Blades are back playing in a system familiar to an array of players, with the likes of Billy Sharp, John Fleck, Oliver Norwood, John Egan, Chris Basham and George Baldock all regulars both now, in the promotion campaign and in the two top-flight seasons.

Rewind to November 6th when Sheffield United travelled to Ewood Park, Jokanovic had the Blades set up in a 4-2-3-1 with Rhian Brewster, a striker playing on the right, opening the scoring in the second minute, his first league goal for the club after almost a year-and-a-half of service.

However, they were too vulnerable and eventually crumbled with Reda Khadra equalising before half-time before a contrary Ben Brereton Diaz effort and Ian Poveda secured the victory for Tony Mowbray’s men.

Ironically, like United, Rovers are higher in the league now than they were in early November, with the Lancashire outfit enjoying an excellent campaign and sitting third ahead of their trip to Bramall Lane.

It appears as though both Fulham and AFC Bournemouth will remain in a league of their own and secure automatic promotion back to the Premier League but, if the season was to finish today, Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield United would be facing each other in the play-offs as things stand.

Wednesday night’s meet up certainly has immense importance as both sides will look to consolidate their play-off position with Mowbray’s side still looking up the table despite one win in six.

However, Rovers will be without the league’s second-top scorer Brereton Diaz, who has 21 league goals this campaign, after the Chile international strained ankle ligaments and will face some time on the sidelines.

The 22-year-old’s absence will certainly be a boost for Paul Heckingbottom’s side, who could go fifth with victory if Huddersfield Town are to lose to Cardiff City on Tuesday evening.

Two sides chasing promotion via the play-offs facing one another, it is sure to be a fascinating matchup under the lights in South Yorkshire.

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