What a season both Burnley and Sheffield United are having. The two Championship sides are flying in the second tier as they sit first and second respectively and are looking more and more prepared for a return to the Premier League. This has been enhanced by the two teams reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals this week, with Burnley beating Fleetwood Town and Sheffield United defeating Tottenham Hotspur.
They have been head and shoulders above every other team in the Championship this year as both have not only been the most consistent with their results and performances, but their quality has been far beyond that of their rivals.
For Burnley, Vincent Kompany’s revolution at Turf Moor has been nothing short of extraordinary. In the space of a few months he has had to rebuild the team from scratch and has completely transformed their footballing ethos. The Clarets abandoned their direct approach in the summer for a more possession-based style, and they have been mesmerising to watch at times - and it all comes down to Kompany’s impressive coaching.
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Burnley are currently on 76 points at the top of the table, 12 points clear of the Blades and 19 ahead of Middlesbrough in third. They have lost just two league games all season and they still have 12 matches left to equal or surpass Reading’s record tally of 106 points at this level. Needing to win at least 10 of their remaining fixtures is a tough task but given how they have handled themselves this term, you can definitely see these players running close to the Royals’ record.
The Clarets have been clinical in their attacking and resolute in their defending and their dominance this year has been no fluke. It is now just a case of when promotion is confirmed and there conversations are surely being held behind the scenes about preparing for a return to the top flight. But this group have shown all year that they have what it takes to make an impression amongst the elite and their sensible recruitment and style mirrors closely to the excellent rise of Fulham this term, who of course were promoted in 2021-22.
Sheffield United have also been very impressive this season under Paul Heckingbottom and the head coach has been building on the fine work he started after taking the reins from Slavisa Jokanovic in 2021-22. He guided the Blades to the play-offs, where they were beaten by eventual winners Nottingham Forest.
Heckingbottom has rallied his team to be an even stronger force in his first full campaign in charge and he has been getting a great response from his players. Like Burnley, they are well drilled and know how to take games away from their opponents. Both these clubs have had recent history in the Premier League, and while it is said that it is easy for such clubs to make a swift return to the top flight through parachute payments, it is very difficult to make sure you can sustain your position back in the big time.
Collectively, the two teams have won 41 of the 67 games played, which equates to 61%, and given the ruthless nature of the Championship and the golden rule of ‘anyone can beat anyone’, these two clubs have been outstanding. When we have a Premier League that has poor teams in Southampton and Everton, swapping them for the likes of Burnley and Sheffield United, teams with a clear plan, should only benefit the top division.
Burnley and Sheffield United are blessed with having very astute managers and star-studded quality in their squads. For both of them, reaching the last eight of the FA Cup highlights how strong their squad depth is and this is further demonstrating that they are Premier League clubs in waiting. And from what we have seen from them countless times on the pitch in 2022-23, they seem to be preparing themselves for a one-way ticket back to the promised land.