This is the big advantage Sheffield United will have over their Premier League rivals when football returns to action
Sheffield United must draw on the experience of their League One title winning campaign in order to overcome the physical and mental challenges the fixture schedule will present as top-flight clubs scramble to finish the season by the end of July.
Seventh in the table and preparing for an FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal when the fixture schedule was suspended due to coronavirus, Chris Wilder’s side will not enjoy a gentle return to action if the Premier League is to meet its deadline.
Although playing so many fixtures in such a short period of time will be alien to many of those who have spent their entire careers at the highest level, many of United’s players understand what it takes to roll, with little preparation or recovery, from one game to the next.
The maximum number of matches Wilder’s squad could find themselves contesting in the 49 day window between June 12 - when it is hoped football can return to action - and July 31 is 13; should they advance to the final of the knockout competition. The minimum, of course, is 11.
So at worst, United would be taking to the pitch once every 3.8 days. If they failed to advance beyond the last eight of the cup, that figure would rise to 4.5.
Although many observers point to United’s Championship background as evidence they could cope with this type of turnaround, it would still be considerably quicker than the one they endured before being promoted last term.
On average, Wilder’s men had played 33 times in 210 days when the PL announced its suspension at the beginning of March - which correlates to a game every 6.4 days. At the same stage last season, they had taken part in 37 games, which translates to one every 5.7 days.
In the third tier, where United were languishing when Wilder was appointed in May 2016, they competed 42 times during the first 213 days of the campaign - or once every 213 days.
But at the start of that season, English Football League Trophy commitments saw them play 10 times in the opening 49 days; the same timeframe the PL hopes it will take to complete the remainder of this term’s games.
Chris Basham, John Fleck, Billy Sharp and Jack O’Connell are all veterans of the squad which negotiated its way through a gruelling schedule which saw United compete once every 4.9 days and Wilder, well-versed in the demands of lower league football himself following spells in charge of Alfreton, Halifax, Oxford and Northampton, will hope they can draw upon that knowledge to help keep the club’s push for Europe on track.
Only five points separated United from Chelsea in fourth place before the shutdown was announced, with the Londoners having played a game more than their rivals from South Yorkshire.
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United, ranked sixth and fifth respectively, also only have nine PL outings remaining on their schedules.