Sheffield United's biggest challengers to survival - how rivals' Christmas fixtures compare

Steve Cooper, Vincent Kompany, Rob Edwards and Roy HodgsonSteve Cooper, Vincent Kompany, Rob Edwards and Roy Hodgson
Steve Cooper, Vincent Kompany, Rob Edwards and Roy Hodgson
Sheffield United are about to come into a hugely important stage of the season as they sey about trying to pull away from the relegation zone

Some say that Sheffield United are already down and out but the performances in the last two games since prodigal son Chris Wilder made a return to Bramall Lane has sprinkled a little bit of optimism over S2.

There was a definite uplift against Liverpool in losing 2-0, both of the Reds' goals worthy of claiming that they could have been ruled out. Then came another battling show against Brentford that this time brought about te capturing of three precious points, breathing a little life into all Blades.

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Now they have to build on those displays and Wilder has his first away trip since coming back as United travel to Chelsea at the weekend. On the face of it, it wouldn't be a fixture the Blades would be expected to get much from but this Chelsea team don't have the fear factor they once did and a point or more for the visitors shouldn't be ruled out.

Chelsea have lost their last two and have won three of their last 10 matches - one of those against Burnley and another a freakish victory over depleted Tottenham.

After that for the Blades comes Aston Villa and then a huge Boxing Day clash with fellow basement battlers Luton Town before heading to Man City.

Taking for granted that Luton and Burnley are going to have to be hurdled before United can even think about breaking out of the bottom three, that leaves at least one more team they are having to edge past. The nearest, as things stand are Everton, but their form is mid-table at least and the expectation is that they will pull away, with or without the 10-point deduction which is up for appeal.

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Looking beyond the Toffees then are two main targets - Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace. Roy Hodgson looked broken on Saturday after his Palace side lost 2-1 in dramatic fashion against Liverpool, mostly because of a few decisions he felt went against them. However, that will have been also due to the fact that he knows the Eagles could be sucked in if any of the bottom three start picking up more points.

Crystal Palace

Palace are currently seven points away from 18th-placed Luton but have picked up one point in their last five, though the performance against Liverpool showed plenty of heart at least. They take on Man City away this weekend before that weird 'derby' with Brighton at Selhurst Park and then it's Chelsea away on Boxing Day and Brentford at home a few days later. They're very much in a fight if the teams below go on a bit of a run.

Nottingham Forest

It looked at one point that Steve Cooper was gone last week but a draw against Wolves at the weekend has lifted Forest a little bit, however they are still dangerously close to the bottom three and lacking a great deal of quality to pull themselves away too far. Maybe their owner will throw a wheelbarrow full of cash it at again and sign an entirely new team to keep them up. Regardless, they've got a tough period coming up with Spurs and Bournemouth at home, Newcastle away at back at home for the visit of Manchester United. That home support could be vital in the next few weeks.

Luton Town

The best of the three promoted team so far but they're only a point better off than United and Burnley. The fact that they haven't really been turned over by too many teams has probably coloured perception but while they are puting up a fight, there aren't too many points on the board. Rob Edwards' side also have Bournemouth and Newcastle before heading to Bramall Lane on Boxing Day and then welcoming Chelsea to Kenilworth Road soon after. Boxing Day could be absolutely huge in Sheffield.

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Just ahead of the Blades on goal difference (though sizable), Vincent Kompany will have felt Chris Wilder's breath on his neck this week. They will be looking to get some points on the board very quickly because their Christmas double comes in the form over Liverpool at home and high-flying Aston Villa away. Before that Everton head to Turf Moor this weekend and then the Clarets travel to Fulham. Their next two games are huge.

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