Sheffield United eyes FA Cup surprise before promotion push

Sheffield United takes on Manchester City in the FA Cup last-four before playing at home against West Bromwich Albion where a win could seal a return to the lucrative Premier League.

Published : Apr 20, 2023 19:52 IST - 3 MINS READ

Sheffield United could become the first Championship team since Cardiff City in 2008 to reach the FA Cup final.
Sheffield United could become the first Championship team since Cardiff City in 2008 to reach the FA Cup final. | Photo Credit: AFP

Sheffield United could become the first Championship team since Cardiff City in 2008 to reach the FA Cup final. | Photo Credit: AFP

It has been 15 years since a team from outside the Premier League reached the FA Cup final.

Sheffield United is looking to end that wait, even if it’s not the priority in a defining few days for the club with plenty on its plate.

On Saturday, the team nicknamed ‘the Blades’ will attempt to deliver one of the biggest FA Cups shocks in years by beating Manchester City in the first of the semifinal matches at Wembley Stadium this weekend.

Four days later, Sheffield United can seal a return to the lucrative Premier League with a home win over West Bromwich Albion in the second-division Championship.

It’s quite the week in what has been a rollercoaster of a season for a club that is up for sale — a Nigerian billionaire wants to buy it from the current owner from Saudi Arabia — and presently under a transfer embargo for breaking financial rules.

In the long term, getting back in the Premier League after an absence of two years is more important for Sheffield United, simply for financial reasons. It will net the club guaranteed income of about 200 million pounds ($250 million) through broadcast deals, prize money and other benefits.

For manager Paul Heckingbottom, the run to the FA Cup semifinals — which has included wins over Hollywood-owned Wrexham and Premier League team Tottenham — has simply been a “break from the league.”

“If we achieve what we want to achieve in the league, then this is going to be the kind of test we are facing every single week,” Heckingbottom said ahead of the daunting match against City. “So why not try and test ourselves now?”

Not that he is blind to the difficulty of facing arguably the most in-form team in Europe, with City unbeaten in 15 games and in contention for a Premier League-Champions League-FA Cup treble with a few weeks of the season remaining.

“We are not daft, we know we have to focus on playing one of the best teams in the world. We’re not being silly about it,” Heckingbottom added. “We know we have to have them having an off day and for us to be at our very best, maybe beyond that, to do it. But we’re going to relish it, give it a real go.”

City is coming off clinching progress to the Champions League semifinals following a 1-1 draw at Bayern Munich on Wednesday, and some post-match comments from manager Pep Guardiola should provide some encouragement for Sheffield United fans.

“The team is exhausted,” Guardiola said, “so I don’t know how we are going to recover to play against Sheffield United.”

He will likely view a match against a second-division team as the easiest in City’s remaining schedule, so expect a run-out for slew of fringe players. Yet they will still be established internationals, such as England players Kalvin Phillips and Kyle Walker, Algeria winger Riyad Mahrez and Argentina forward Julian Alvarez, who won the World Cup in Qatar and is back-up to Erling Haaland.

Cardiff was the last team from the Championship to get to the FA Cup final. That was in 2008, when Portsmouth won 1-0. Four years earlier, second-division club Millwall advanced to the title match against Manchester United and lost 3-0.

United has played in four finals since — winning the competition in 2016 — and will look to do so again by beating Brighton in an all-Premier League semifinal match on Sunday.

Brighton, which lost to City in the semifinals in 2019, is in seventh place in the league so has two routes to playing in Europe next season.

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