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Because of circumstances forcing the postponement of last weekend’s home game against Manchester United, our 2020/21 season is kicking off at 5:30 p.m. today with a League Cup tie against Sheffield United at the Turf.

It’s just the second time we’ve played them in this competition; the previous occasion ended in a 2-0 defeat at Bramall Lane back in the 1966/67 season and it is the first time we’ve played them in a cup competition since they knocked us out of the FA Cup in a Turf Moor replay back in 1993. It’s the only all Premier League tie in this round and we already know the winners will face a trip south to Millwall who beat Cheltenham this week to book their place in the 3rd round.

What has become usual practice in this competition in recent years is making wholesale changes and losing. This year things could be different, in fact likely to be. Just a year ago we had a squad that was big enough to field two different teams; one year on we are struggling for players with some having left, no replacements having come in and three players ruled out with injury.

Sunderland were the visitors to Burnley last season in this competition. We’d just drawn at Wolves in the Premier League, deserving more than the point we got, but when Sunderland pitched up at the Turf they found a much different Burnley team with Sean Dyche making ten changes. Only Dwight McNeil remained in the team from that that which had played at Molineux. With a fit Robbie Brady that could have been eleven changes.

It’s not quite like that this year. For one, we don’t have any changes to make having not kicked off our league season, two, we don’t have anything like enough players to do it and three, I feel Dyche might want to go strong tonight in any case in preparation for our first Premier League game at Leicester on Sunday evening.

Should he do so, that will mean Nick Pope playing in goal for the first time in this competition since 2017 when he was in the side that won at Blackburn before going out in a penalty shoot out against Leeds.

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He’s had a disrupted pre-season having been with the England squad watching Jordan Pickford pick up another two international caps but is ready and looking forward to the new season. “Missing the start of the Premier League season and seeing everyone else play is a bit different,” he said.

“It’s not something you’re used to. Normally we get started on the same day, more or less, so we’re looking forward to it even more. We’re a bit hungry and after watching everyone else play I think we’re raring to go.

“Sheffield United are a Premier League team, so we know it’s going to be a good test and will help us in our preparation for the Premier League and it will be a good contest.”

It’s seven years since we last played a Premier League team in this competition. On that occasion, back in 2013, we’d already eliminated York, Preston and Nottingham Forest before West Ham came to Turf Moor and beat us 2-0 in the fourth round courtesy of penalties from Matt Taylor and Jack Collison.

Kevin Long and Ben Mee both played in that game against West Ham but none of their team mates from that game are still with the club. Mee, however, is one of three players ruled out through injury tonight alongside Jack Cork and Ashley Barnes. That leaves us with just 14 fit senior outfield players alongside three goalkeepers so no matter which way you look at it, there will be two younger players on the bench.

I do think we will play a strong side and should we opt to go for our strongest possible line up, I’d expect the team to be: Nick Pope, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Charlie Taylor, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Josh Brownhill, Ashley Westwood, Dwight McNeil, Jay Rodriguez, Chris Wood. Subs: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Matt Lowton, Jimmy Dunne, Erik Pieters, Josh Benson, Robbie Brady, Matěj Vydra.

Unlike us, Sheffield United have started in the Premier League and their start was a reminder for me of the last time we kicked off a season in Sheffield back in 2008. That day we found ourselves 2-0 down against Wednesday at Hillsborough with less than four minutes gone. On Monday of this week, Wolves were 2-0 up at Bramall Lane within six minutes with Raúl Jiménez and then Romain Saïss scoring for Wolves.

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Sheffield United’s team against was: Aaron Ramsdale, George Baldock, Enda Stevens, John Fleck, Jack O’Connell, Chris Basham, John Lundstram, Ollie McBirnie, Billy Sharp, John Egan, Oliver Norwood.

Chris Wilder, who has said it will be an enormous achievement for everyone at Bramall Lane if they can replicate our achievements in the Premier League, has hinted at several changes. Only goalkeeper Ramsdale (pictured), who returned from Bournemouth, played in the league game so it is very likely that his changes will see debuts for one time Burnley target Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe, both signed from Derby, Oliver Burke, who has arrived from West Brom, and Chelsea’s Ethan Ampadu who has signed on loan for the season.

It is, as we reported at the time of the draw, only the second time the clubs have met in this competition with Sheffield United beating us 2-0 at Bramall Lane back in the 1966/67 season. The prize for tonight’s winners is a trip to Millwall next week and a place in the 4th round draw which will take place this evening.

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