Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder believes Chelsea are the team most likely to break the recent dominance of Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League.
Since the Blues were champions in 2017 under Antonio Conte, City won successive league crowns before the title returned to Merseyside for the first time in 30 years last season.
The last two seasons in particular have seen the sides managed by Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp take a stranglehold of the competition, with a 25-point gap to the third-placed team in 2018-19 and 15 points in 2019-20.
Chelsea finished fourth last season, behind Manchester United on goal difference, and ahead of the Blades’ trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Wilder expects Frank Lampard’s side to push the big two much closer this time round.
“The problems he had there in his first season, with the transfer embargo, he did very well but he is now putting his stamp on the team and I expect them to go really well this season,” said Wilder, who has an unchanged squad for the game.
“I think there’s a few clubs beneath Liverpool and Manchester City who are desperate to close that gap, and there is a gap, and Chelsea is certainly the standout one for me in terms of closing the gap between the two teams who have been the best in the country for quite a period now.
“Chelsea are an outstanding side and I believe they are going to close that gap and I think they will be in and around it right the way through.
“People might talk about inexperience but people always look for an excuse to dig managers out and I can’t see anything else but an unbelievably driven manager in Frank Lampard and intelligent one who had a fabulous playing career and who is taking those experiences into his managerial career.”
This weekend’s round of fixtures are the last before another international break and Wilder has once more expressed his concern with Covid-19 cases on the rise.
The Blades boss hopes to avoid another “close call” after it looked like John Egan might have the virus when he returned from duty with Republic of Ireland during the October international break.
Wilder, who last month called for international football to be curtailed amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, said: “The schedule is not ideal.
“I’m caught in between as I’ve always been a massive supporter of players going away and representing their countries and getting games playing in different styles and against top players. But their is obviously a big concern.
“We had a massive scare with John Egan last time, that was touch and go as to whether he would be made available after coming back from the last international break.
“It just opens it up. The Premier League have put in some stringent measures and testing and I think we’ve seen the results of that, I think we’ve seen the results of that at our football club too.
“But obviously when the players leave our bubble or leave the Premier League it opens it up and it’s certainly a huge risk for the players when they are flying all around Europe in the case of players that play for Sheffield United.”