AFC Bournemouth will be looking to continue their upturn in form when they travel to Premier League rivals Sheffield United on Sunday (2pm kick-off).
Eddie Howe’s team have won their last two league games with victories over Brighton & Hove Albion and Aston Villa at Vitality Stadium.
Sheffield United were promoted from the Championship last season and have had a superb campaign, currently sitting in sixth position.
Chris Wilder’s side are just five points behind Chelsea, who occupy the final Champions League place and beat Crystal Palace last Saturday at Selhurst Park.
They added five names during January, with Jack Rodwell, Jack Robinson, Richairo Zivkovic, Panagiotis Retsos and Sander Berge all arriving at Bramall Lane.
The sides met on opening day this season, Chris Mepham opening the scoring after an hour before Billy Sharp scrambled an equaliser in the dying minutes to share the points.
Ahead of the clash, afcb.co.uk caught up with Richard Sutcliffe, who covers the Blades for The Athletic.
afcb.co.uk: Summarise Sheffield United’s season so far.
RS: It has been exceptional really. They sit in sixth position and I don’t think many of us thought we’d reach the start of February in this position. We thought this season would be about staying in the Premier League but they’re exceeding expectations and largely with the same squad.
The sum is bigger than the parts, the team is excelling. Despite the well-known tactic of overlapping centre-backs, their defensive record stands out. Only Liverpool have conceded fewer goals than United this campaign, which is exceptional for a newly-promoted team.
afcb.co.uk: Sheffield United are deep in the Europa League race – how do you fancy their chances?
RS: It is going to be tough. Suddenly, we’re watching ‘Match of the Day’ and hoping Tottenham or Manchester United drop points, it’s a real flip around from the norm. There are several teams just behind the Blades and it’s very tight but they’re still there.
The next three games are all at home, against Bournemouth, Brighton and Norwich, and if they can get nine points from those matches, maybe the sky is the limit for this team.
afcb.co.uk: It was a busy January month for Chris Wilder’s side, including the high-profile signing of Sander Berge, how do you rate their recruitment?
RS: Sander Berge is not the sort of signing the club normally makes. We were discussing last week when the last time was Sheffield United made a signing this exciting and you’re probably going back to the late 70s when Alejandro Sabella came from Argentina.
They’ve obviously had great players through the years, but they were mainly players like Ian Rush, who came towards the end of their playing days, or Phil Jagielka, who started their careers at Bramall Lane.
Berge has come in as a special talent and it is surprising to a lot of people that he’s not at a ‘bigger’ club than Sheffield United.
afcb.co.uk: On current form, who would be the player to watch?
RS: It is difficult really as they’ve all done their bit. Lys Mousset offers an explosiveness that they haven’t got elsewhere, Oliver Norwood has had a great season, the three players at the back – John Egan, Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell – have made the step up look easy and Dean Henderson in goal.
You could go right through the team, but everyone is contributing. However, my player of the year would be John Fleck.
afcb.co.uk: Who is available and unavailable for Sunday’s clash?
RS: David McGoldrick is the one. He’s not been involved for a few weeks now and it seems like he’s been close to a return for a little while now, so they’ll be hopeful for his inclusion, but otherwise it is a clean bill of health.
They do a lot of preventative work to try and stop muscle injuries, and so far, it has worked. Other than an odd knock to the ankle, there haven’t been many hamstring or groin injuries.
The squad has remained stable, the forwards have rotated a bit but the back nine have stayed consistent which is maybe a factor in why they’ve done so well.
afcb.co.uk: Score prediction?
RS: I do fancy Sheffield United. I know Bournemouth have picked up a few good results recently, which I’m happy about as I like the club; they’re a smashing example of what a well-run club is.
It was tight on the opening day, but I do fancy Sheffield United and I’m predicting a 2-0 win for the Blades.
However, I am looking forward to watching Philip Billing. I watched a lot of him last season with Huddersfield and I think he’s a smashing player. If he has a great game, it may be a more difficult game for United.
You can follow Richard on Twitter - @RSooty73
Match officials: Jonathan Moss (referee), Marc Perry (assistant), Eddie Smart (assistant), Lee Mason (fourth official), Peter Bankes (VAR), Daniel Cook (assistant VAR).