Chris Holt and Danny Hall look through the opposing teams and pick out the battles that could decide the huge Steel City derby clash at Hillsborough.
Chris Wilder v Carlos Carvalhal
For Wilder, a lifelong Unitedite, this is just simply not just another game. The Blades boss turns 50 the day before the derby, and will be hoping for a birthday weekend to remember. United will walk out of the Hillsborough tunnel knowing exactly how much this means to their manager, to their fans inside the ground and their supporters watching the game on TV around the world. As for Carvalhal, he has maintained his measured approach. He knows it’s not just another game but he’s been careful not to let his team get sucked into the hype. You’d be unlikely get two more differing characters
Steven Fletcher v Jack O’Connell
Despite Chris Basham’s industry and the experience of Jake Wright, O’Connell is United’s best defender and his battle with Owls star Hooper will be a fascinating one. Not many strikers get the better of O’Connell in the air and despite not being the quickest along the ground, he is equally as formidable on the ground. Fletcher has been in excellent form this season but despite his height, it’s not just the Scot’s aerial ability that provides a threat. He’s a very intelligent footballer, his touch is superb and the link-up with Gary Hooper has been vital to Wednesday this season. O’Connell has a battle on his hands.
John Fleck v Kieran Lee
Fleck was a key man in United’s promotion last season. Fleck is equally as capable of producing a match-saving tackle as he is producing a match-winning moment of magic and is one of the players United will need to shine if they are to prevail at Hillsborough.It’s no coincidence that the Owls’ spike in form came with Lee’s return. His energy is unrivalled and those late runs he makes into the box are so difficult to counteract. This match-up in the middle of the park could be the key battle of the day.
Clayton Donaldson (if fit) v Tom Lees
Donaldson impressed on his Blades debut at Sunderland - not just with his two goals, but with his hold-up play and willingness to work off the ball - and offers United both a physical imposing threat up-front, and also someone who can get in behind defenders with his pace, which is still there at 33 years old. Lees is regarded as one of the best and most consistent centre-backs in the league. He’ll provide more than a match for Donaldson’s physicality and in their air, he’s tough to beat. Lees reads the game so well that the Blades striker will do well to find space.