Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson thinks Sheffield United can genuinely look towards Europa League qualification.
Palace host the Blades at Selhurst Park in the Premier League at 3pm on Saturday. The two clubs have not met since the second game of the season, when United ran out 1-0 winners at Bramall Lane.
It was their first victory since gaining promotion to the top flight, having drawn 1-1 at Bournemouth on the opening day.
Since then Chris Wilder’s side have won seven more league matches and currently sit in eighth position after 24 fixtures. They are three points and three places ahead of the Eagles and only one point behind fifth-placed Manchester United.
“Sheffield United have gone from strength to strength,” Hodgson told the official Palace website.
“When we played them it was only their second game in the Premier League and everyone was wondering how it would go for them. It was pretty much the team which got them from the Championship to the Premier League. That team 24 games on is a really good team and has played exceptionally well.
“They’re a team to be reckoned with and will be looking more at Europa League places than even considering relegation.”
Is the Crystal Palace boss right about Sheffield United?
It wouldn’t have been anywhere near the agenda ahead of their first Premier League campaign in 12 years, but European qualification is now a genuine possibility for the Blades.
The top four places give teams access to the Champions League. Due to the gap between themselves and the others in the division, it seems highly unlikely Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester City won’t occupy three of those positions.
Chelsea are in a great situation to take the fourth, with them six points ahead of Man United.
Their place of fifth guarantees automatic progression to the Europa League. The other two places for English sides are given to the FA Cup and Carabao Cup winners. However, if they have already qualified for Europe then it goes to sixth and seventh place in the table.
Astonishingly, there are only four points separating the Red Devils in fifth and Newcastle United in 14th. In theory, any of the clubs in that group could end fifth, sixth, or seventh.
So why not the Blades?