Why Sheffield United are allowed to face Sheffield Wednesday as part of their 'Project Restart' preparations
Guidelines designed to limit the spread of Covid-19 appear to severely limit the number of clubs Sheffield United can face in friendly competition before this month’s return to Premier League action.
As The Star predicted earlier this week, top-flight sides were granted permission to stage warm-up games as part of their ‘Project Restart’ preparations following Tuesday’s meeting between government officials as English football chiefs.
But with social distancing measures still in place across the country, United have been informed that potential opponents must be located within a 90 minute radius - although Newcastle have been granted special dispensation because of their location in the North-East.
This means Manchester City, Manchester United and Aston Villa are potentially the only teams Chris Wilder squad can face ahead of June 17th’s visit to Villa Park, together with their rivals from St James’ Park. However, with Dean Smith’s men set to be United’s first port of call following the three month break in competition, it is unlikely Wilder would consider meeting them at either the Steelphalt Academy or Bodymoor Heath - Villa’s training complex near Tamworth.
The regulations, which also prohibit group travel and the use of matchday officials, mean United are expected to approach clubs from the Championship instead, with Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Nottingham Forest, Huddersfield Town, Hull City and Derby County all situated within the boundaries laid down by health advisors.
League One and League Two also offer possibilities. But their competitions are expected to be curtailed, with final placings decided by points per game averages or similar 'sporting merit' calculation..
United were seventh in the table and chasing Champions league qualification when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic in March. They are also set to face Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, which offers a route into next term’s Europa League.
With full contact training resuming last week, Wilder is confident his players will be ready for the trip to the West Midlands, which could see them move to within two points of fourth-placed Chelsea with nine matches of their league campaign remaining.