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Second-season syndrome and that sinking feeling

Desperate times: Chris Wilder's Sheffield United remain rooted to the foot of the table having taken only a single point so far this season

Manager Chris Wilder will be as disappointed and distressed as any Sheffield United supporter to see the club in such desperate times already in this English Premier League campaign.

Not because his job is on the line but because Wilder, like any of the Blades’ faithful who are utterly devoted to the club, is a lifelong fan himself.

The 53-year-old was being lauded as a genius after guiding his newly promoted club to a ninth-place finish last season; however, after a dramatic fall from grace, the club are rooted to the foot of the table, having taken only one point from 11 matches.

The theory of second-season syndrome is being well and truly strengthened ...

The irony of United’s plight is they’ve turned in some good performances with eight of their ten defeats being by a single goal, including last weekend’s last-gasp 2-1 loss to Leicester City.

The main problem is goals. Scotland striker Oli McBurnie has scored one league goal in his past 15 games, while summer signing Rhian Brewster is still to get off the mark after a £23 million move from Liverpool.

A trip to high-flying Southampton is hardly the ideal tonic. Wilder and the Blades need to find a winning formula soon or risk being cut adrift of their fellow relegation rivals, let alone the rest of the league.


Leeds United v West Ham United


Both teams will be aiming to get back to winning ways at Elland Road.

Inconsistent Leeds suffered a 3-1 defeat by Chelsea, while previously in-form West Ham will be desperate to make amends after throwing away a goal advantage and capitulating in the second half to go down 3-1 to visiting Manchester United.

The hosts are unbeaten against the Hammers in their previous nine meetings, winning five of them; however, they have also gone four home matches without a victory.

Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa is also facing somewhat of a defensive crisis, with Robin Koch and Diego Llorente nursing injuries. Right back Luke Ayling is expected to join captain Liam Cooper in the centre of defence.

Prediction: 1-1


Wolverhampton Wanderers v Aston Villa


Wolves will once again have to cope with the absence of talisman Raúl Jiménez for the visit of their Midlands neighbours.

The Mexico striker is continuing his recovery from a fractured skull suffered in a sickening clash of heads with Arsenal defender David Luiz.

The home side will also be aiming to bounce back from a 4-0 humbling against Liverpool. On paper, a visit of Villa could the be a good opportunity to do so, with the visiting side suffering back-to-back defeats in a run of form that has seen them lose four of their past five league matches.

Wolves did the double over Aston Villa last season, winning 1-0 at Villa Park after a 2-1 victory at Molineux, and will relish the opportunty to add to that sequence.

Prediction: 2-1

Newcastle United v West Bromwich Albion


Having seen their trip to Villa postponed last Friday because of a “significant increase” in Covid-19 cases, Newcastle’s game against West Brom is set go ahead as the United squad recovers from the outbreak.

The Magpies training ground was closed for a week, but after the squad was tested on Monday, enough players returned negative results to allow tomorrow’s game to go ahead.

Newcastle will be aiming to build on a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace in their previous outing, while West Brom will be keen to make amends after a 5-1 thumping by the same opposition last weekend.

Second-bottom Albion could climb out of the relegation zone with what would be only their second win of the season.

Prediction: 2-1

Manchester United v Manchester City


While the hosts head into the Manchester derby ahead of City in the standings, it is United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who remains under immense pressure.

Elimination from the Champions League in midweek only intensified scrutiny surrounding the Norwegian’s job, with many demanding his immediate dismissal.

However, ahead of a visit from their neighbours, United have strung together four successive victories in the Premier League to see them sit one place above City in sixth, just five points adrift of the summit with a game in hand on those above them.

Meanwhile, City finally shown glimpses of the former devastating best form in recent weeks, securing back-to-back victories to continue their assent of the table.

United, who are set to be without strikers Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial, are unbeaten in the league against City in their previous two meetings but the visitors’ fans will be desperate to grab the bragging rights and heap more pressure on Solskjaer

Prediction: 1-2

Everton v Chelsea


Everton will be aiming to halt a winless run of three matches at home against high-flying Chelsea.

The Toffees have won only one of their previous seven matches and were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw by struggling Burnley last time out.

In stark contrast, third-placed Chelsea are in fine form, with last week’s 3-1 success over Leeds stretching their unbeaten league run to nine games.

Frank Lampard’s side are also unbeaten in their previous five away games, but they have not secured victory in their last three visits to Goodison Park.

Prediction: 1-2


Southampton v Sheffield United


Fifth-placed Southampton will be aiming to heap more misery on hapless United and close the gap on the early pacesetters above them.

A dramatic late 2-1 victory over South Coast neighbours Brighton got the Saints back to winning ways and left them just four points adrift of leaders Tottenham.

The home side will also take confidence from being unbeaten against United in their previous two meetings.

The blunt Blades find themselves on an 11-game winless run away from home, while they have also scored only three times in their previous six outings.

Prediction: 2-0

Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur


Can anyone stop José Mourinho’s table-topping Tottenham?

Spurs are full of confidence at the moment with a 2-0 North London derby day victory over Arsenal extending their unbeaten run to ten matches as they continue to demonstrate their title credentials.

On previous form, Roy Hodgson’s Eagles don’t appear to be the answer to halting Spurs’ blistering start to the season, having not beaten Tottenham in their previous ten league meetings.

However, Palace will have renewed vigour after scoring five times on the road in the Premier League for the first time in the 5-1 demolition of West Brom last time out.

Prediction: 1-2

Fulham v Liverpool


Separated only by goal difference, Liverpool remain hot on the heels of Tottenham ahead of a trip to West London.

The 4-0 thrashing of Wolves got Liverpool back to winning ways last weekend with Jürgen Klopp’s side going in search of back-to-back victories for the first time since October.

Fulham, who suffered a 2-0 defeat by Manchester City last time out to leave them in seventeenth and a point above the drop zone, will be going in search of a first victory in six attempts against Liverpool.

Prediction: 0-4

Arsenal v Burnley


Perhaps the only manager under greater pressure than Solskjaer is Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta.

A 2-0 defeat away to North London rivals Tottenham last weekend extended the Gunners’ winless sequence to four matches, leaving them languishing in fifteenth — just seven clear of the drop zone.

For some fans defeat by their fiercest rivals amid a disastrous start to the season was the final straw, but losing at home to to struggling Burnley could spell the end for the Spaniard.

The Clarets have improved of late, picking up four points from their previous three matches; however, no Arsenal fan will accept anything other than a victory at home against a side in the relegation zone.

Prediction: 2-0

Leicester City v Brighton & Hove Albion


Leicester City will be aiming to build on their dramatic victory over Sheffield United against another struggling side in Brighton.

Jamie Vardy struck in stoppage time to halt the Foxes’ two-game winless run to get them back on track in their pursuit of the summit. Heading into the encounter, Brendan Rodgers’s men are fourth just three points adrift of leaders Tottenham.

In stark contrast, sixteenth-placed Brighton remain just four points above the drop zone having picked up two victories from their 11 matches.

Prediction: 2-0

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Published December 11, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 10, 2020 at 8:14 pm)

Second-season syndrome and that sinking feeling

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