Aston Villa and Sheffield United have experienced something of a role reversal over the past 12 months.
In 2019/20, both sides were newly promoted to the Premier League. Yet while the Blades won many plaudits, Villa struggled.
United would go onto finish ninth in their first top flight season in 12 years. It was their highest position since 1992.
There was never any genuine talk of relegation and Chris Wilder was being tipped to win LMA manager of the year – which eventually went to Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp.
As for the Villans, they only avoided the drop on the final day of the campaign.
However, this time around it has been a very different story.
Ahead of the two teams facing each other at Bramall Lane this evening, 28 points and 11 places separate them in the table.
The Blades are rock bottom with just 11 points, having lost 21 of their 26 league games so far. They are 15 points from safety and look almost certain to be relegated.
Villa, meanwhile, are currently ninth themselves. After 24 matches, they already have four more points in 2020/21 then in the entirety of last term.
Why Aston Villa and Sheffield United have swapped roles
It’s an interesting turn of events in less than a year. How can a team who did so well, have regressed so much?
While a side who looked destined for the drop are now in the hunt for European qualification?
Villa head coach Dean Smith explains.
“Sheffield United got promoted with a very steady team. That team stayed together in that first season in the Premier League and were excellent,2 the 49-year-old said in his pre-match press conference.
“Unfortunately, they’ve lost some key players and that can affect you.
“We were pretty much the opposite in that we had to build a team for the Premier League and that took time.
“We probably entered the league in different ways, but the thing’s that always important is you try and keep those key players fit and in your team. Then you’ve got a chance of competing against the best in the league.”
The major differences
Smith points to the injuries United have suffered so far this season and it certainly hasn’t helped their cause.
Amazingly, only three first team players haven’t had an issue that has forced them to miss game time this term.
Key figures such as Sander Berge, John Egan, Jack O’Connell and John Fleck have all spent significant time on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, the two clubs’ recruitment has been very different. The Villans beat their South Yorkshire rivals to the signing of Ollie Watkins last summer.
It was because they were prepared to offer the striker £70,000-a-week and Watkins has repaid that faith with 12 goals so far this campaign.
Matty Cash was another linked with the Blades who eventually joined the Birmingham side instead.
United had to look elsewhere and didn’t sign anyone who genuinely improved their starting XI.
Now they face being back in the second tier of English football, while the future looks bright for Villa.