Sheffield United-Aston Villa Preview

The Associated Press

The world is a different place since the last time Aston Villa and Sheffield United took to the pitch.

Now, with the Premier League ready to return to action with the coronavirus still active, Villa and Sheffield each have different goals to attain upon their restart Wednesday night in Birmingham.

It's been a little more than three months since the Premier League was active. The coronavirus shut down society for most around the globe, but as England and more countries continue to open up their way of life, sports are returning in various forms. In the case of the Premier League, it's without fans and amidst an abundance of caution with respect to the global pandemic.

This contest marks the official return of the league, which has less than a month left to complete its slate.

"It's an honour (to be the first game), the eyes of the world will be on us, and we are looking forward to it," Villa manager Dean Smith told the club's official website on Monday. "We won't have supporters, and that's disappointing. But, the players have to come up with their own motivation now, and hopefully (the fans) will see an improved Aston Villa."

Villa certainly wanted the season to restart rather than be considered done without a full finish. The Villans (7-4-17) currently sit in the middle of the relegation zone, two points from safety and four points from the bottom spot. They'll also try to avoid a fifth consecutive league defeat after falling 4-0 at Leicester City in their most recent contest on March 9.

Aston Villa have also been shut out in each of their last two Premier League games and conceded nine goals in the last three contests within the top-flight. Yet, Smith sees the return to action as almost a second chance for his club.

"Everybody has written us off already," he said. "Our job now is to prove to ourselves that we are good enough, but also to prove people wrong."

Villa lost 2-0 at Sheffield back on Dec. 14. John Fleck netted a brace in that contest for the Blades (11-10-7), who sit seventh in the table and have their eyes set on a European slot for next season.

Sheffield United, who are tied with sixth-place Wolves on points and five back of fourth-place Chelsea, have won three of their last four league contests and are 3-1-0 since a 1-0 home defeat to Manchester City on Jan. 21.

The challenge for the Blades, at the moment, will be to pick up where they left off on a tremendously successful run in their first top-flight campaign since 2006.

"I think we've done as much as we possibly could of done to give us the best chance of performing, but we'll only know come 6 o'clock on Wednesday," manager Chris Wilder told Sheffield United's official website.

Fleck and Lys Mousset lead Sheffield with five Premier League goals apiece. Jack Grealish has paced Villa with seven league goals, but he has not scored since Jan. 18.

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