Why Sheffield United should be broadly satisfied with their Premier League fixture schedule

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No games are easy, especially in a competition as tough as the Premier League. But Sheffield United will be broadly satisfied with the programme they have been handed by the governing body’s fixture planners, who released their schedule for next season earlier today.

Promoted from the Championship last term and about to embark upon their third top-flight campaign in five years, many members of Paul Heckingbottom’s squad are no strangers to a division containing some of the richest and most talent laden clubs in world football. But history teaches us that establishing yourself at the highest level is terribly difficult, with United enduring a morale-sapping campaign which saw them return to the EFL only 10 months after finishing ninth and mounting an unlikely challenge for Europe.

Although he would not say so publicly, Heckingbottom’s greatest fear before PL chiefs pressed ‘send’ on their calendar for 2023/24 will have been discovering his side faced a nightmare run of matches against the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United during the first couple of weeks. Although Pep Guardiola’s men are set to visit Bramall Lane in August, this assignment comes after clashes with Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest, with the Londoners set to travel to South Yorkshire during the opening round of clashes a fortnight earlier. Facing two teams who aren’t expected to challenge for the title - with the first of those outings at home - does not represent a baptism of fire for United as they look to reacclimatise to life in the PL. Yes, both of them will be confident of beating Heckingbottom’s men. But Heckingbottom’s men will also be confident of taking points off Palace and Forest; both of whom, albeit to slightly different degrees, found themselves battling to keep their respective heads above water last term.

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Scanning through the season, United’s most mentally gruelling and challenging month could be April.

Unless they are already pretty much assured of survival, trips to Liverpool and Newcastle, who qualified for the Champions League, are likely to be highly pressurised occasions for Heckingbottom’s charges. The same, if they both struggle, goes for the home game against Burnley which is sandwiched in between away days at Brentford and St James’ Park. Chelsea, expected to rediscover their old verve under Mauricio Pochettino, make the journey north immediately after that midweek date at Anfield. If United are hoping to plot a course out or away from the bottom three, this will be a critical - and draining - period.

Having placed the United supporters at the heart of his battle plan, Heckingbottom will be pleased that his men complete the campaign inside their own stadium - when Tottenham Hotspur arrive on May 19th. Before that, after hosting Forest, United are then set to appear at Goodison Park.

Sheffield United are heading back to the Premier League: ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty ImagesSheffield United are heading back to the Premier League: ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images
Sheffield United are heading back to the Premier League: ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images

Heckingbottom knows that he faces a huge challenge to guide his employers to safety, particularly given the vast gulf in financial resources between the PL and EFL. But as he considers how United must try and navigate a way towards that, Heckingbottom should be encouraged they face as even a spread as possible of matches he will view as definitely winnable and those against the PL’s behemoths.