Aston Villa v Sheffield United: James Shield's predicted team, form guide and one to watch

This evening, Sheffield United and Aston Villa will take part in the first Premier League match to be staged since competition was suspended three months ago because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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The Star’s United writer James Shield analyses some of the facts surrounding the game and the key figures likely to be involved as Chris Wilder's side look to continue their push for European football next season.

The Possible Teams

Aston Villa - Reina, Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Targett, McGinn, Douglas, Grealish, Elmohamady, Samatta. Sheffield United - Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Stevens, Baldock, Norwood, Berge, Fleck, Sharp, McBurnie.

The Referee

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Michael Oliver, widely regarded as the best referee in the country, will take charge of this evening’s match. He will be assisted by Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett, while Cris Kavanagh is the fourth official. Paul Tierney is set to perform VAR duties. Oliver averages 3.36 yellow cards per game this season, although he cautioned only one player - United’s Mo Besic - when West Ham were beaten at Bramall Lane in January. Neither of the two red cards he has produced since August have come in Premier League competition. Tierney’s last encounter with Wilder’s men came when they travelled to Liverpool nearly six months ago.

The Team News

Goalkeeper Jed Steer and midfielder John McGinn, one of Villa’s most influential players before suffering a fractured ankle, are both available for selection having recovered from injury during the three month long break. However, Tom Heaton and Wesley are both ruled out until next term. United are believed to have a fully fit squad at their disposal after Enda Stevens, the Republic of Ireland wing-back, overcame the calf complaint he sustained in March. Mo Besic is believed to have returned to Everton after United elected not to extend his loan at Bramall Lane beyond the end of last month. But the agreement which brought Dean Henderson to the club from Manchester United has been amended to ensure he is eligible for selection. United handed new contracts to Billy Sharp, Oliver Norwood and David McGoldrick during the build-up to the game, while Chris Basham and John Egan are among those known to be holding talks about also extending their deals.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith (L) and Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder meet at Villa Park tonight, as thr Premier League returns to action following a three month break: Bryn Lennon/Getty ImagesAston Villa manager Dean Smith (L) and Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder meet at Villa Park tonight, as thr Premier League returns to action following a three month break: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith (L) and Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder meet at Villa Park tonight, as thr Premier League returns to action following a three month break: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The Opposition Star Man

He might not be every supporters’ cup of tea. Indeed, some would probably regard him as one of the most irritating players in the Premier League - on the pitch at least. But there is no doubt that Jack Grealish is also one of the most talented youngsters in the competition. Indeed, Wilder himself lauded the midfielder’s talents before Villa travelled to South Yorkshire earlier this season. The respect is mutual, after Grealish described United as the best side his team mates had faced in the Championship last term. United went up automatically while Villa were promoted via the play-offs. With McGinn now recovered from injury, Grealish will be looking forward to enjoying extra support in Villa’s engine room as he looks to guide his team out of the relegation zone. No player in the top-flight has been fouled more since August.

The Opposition Manager

Like Wilder, Dean Smith manages the club he has supported since childhood. Previously of Brentford and Walsall, he took charge at Villa Park in October 2018 and was responsible for appointing Grealish as captain. Aged 49 - three years younger than Wilder - Smith represented Sheffield Wednesday as a player; making 55 appearances between 2003 and 2004. Leyton Orient and Hereford United were also ports of call before his retirement shortly after leaving Hillsborough. After guiding Villa to promotion last term, Smith also helped them reach the final of the EFL Cup, where they were beaten by Manchester City, in March.

The Last Time Out

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United triumphed 2-0 when Villa visited Bramall Lane in December, with John Fleck scoring both goals. The first came following a delightful back heel from Basham, which enabled the Scot to lose his marker before another clinical second-half finish beat Tom Heaton. Henderson, the United goal, did not have a shot of note to save during the game as Smith’s men failed to muster an effort on target, despite enjoying more than 40 per cent of the possession. "I have to say, Dean Smith and (coach) John Terry were in the tunnel clapping our players because they recognise our players' performance today," Wilder said afterwards. "That's a class act and people won't see that but I want to mention it. I think we're changing perceptions."

The Form Guide

For what it’s worth - after going three months without a game - these two teams enter this evening’s fixture in very different shape. United make the journey to the West Midlands seventh in the table and unbeaten in their last six outings, having also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup where they are scheduled to face Arsenal at home. Villa, by contract, had lost five in a row when competition was suspended, conceding 13 goals in the process and scoring only four. However, United have not won any of their previous 12 league appearances at Villa Park, with their last victory there coming in 1966. However, they did beat Villa on home soil in the FA Cup during their march into the semi-finals six years ago under Wilder’s predecessor Nigel Clough.

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Stay safe and take care. Thank you. James.