Aston Villa can go from 19th to 16th and send a message to its relegation rivals when it welcomes European hopeful Sheffield United to Villa Park on Wednesday (Watch Live at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
Our Aston Villa-Sheffield United preview has to begin with the visitors’ high stakes. Villa’s match-in-hand kicks off with the club holding 25 points, two less than a trio of teams vying to hold their place in the Premier League.
The first Premier League match from the coronavirus pause also holds big message-sending implications for the visiting Blades, who can pull into fifth with a win.
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Aston Villa gets playmaker John McGinn back. The Scottish Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year hasn’t played since just before Christmas thanks to an ankle injury.
McGinn, 25, has three goals and two assists in 20 matches across all competitions for Villa this season, his second with the club and first in the Premier League.
Aston Villa: OUT — Tom Heaton, Wesley. QUESTIONABLE — None
Sheffield United: OUT — None. QUESTIONABLE — None.
Aston Villa: Reina, Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Targett, Hourihane, Luiz, McGinn, Grealish, Al Ghazi, Samatta
Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Berge, Lundstram, Norwood, Stevens, Mousset, McGoldrick
What they’re saying
Dean Smith on the return of McGinn: “John McGinn has been a big boost for us on the training ground. He’s back and played against West Brom and Leicester. It’s big to have John back. The rest of the lads have done conditioning work and we’ve had a few niggles, but nothing to concern us.”
Chris Wilder on Blades’ incredible season: “I liken it to a Ford Fiesta in the Le Mans 24-hour race in supercars. Listen, we’re competitors. We’ve enjoyed it and I do 100 percent believe the performances we’ve got have been fully deserved. We’re going to have to do a lot just to maintain our position now.”
Expect this one to be cagey, requiring something special to break into the win column. Jack Grealish has the wondrous in his locker, but he’ll have to earn his chance against a team who doesn’t allow much and a keeper who’s kept the second-most clean sheets in the PL this season.
Blades have found a number of goals from its marauding defenders and/or their service this season, but it was Scottish midfielder John Fleck who bagged a brace in a 2-0 defeat of Villa at Bramall Lane in December.
That loss came in one of three 3-plus losing streaks for Villa this year, the most recent an active four-match run. Smith’s men will find a way to get their point here, moving one back of safety after a scoring draw.
Premier League Preview: Aston Villa v. Sheffield United originally appeared on NBCSports.com