EPL

Talking Point: Can Sheffield United's brave tactics succeed in the Premier League?

By Sports Desk August 21, 2019

Sheffield United have started well on their return to the big time, gaining four points from their opening two Premier League games.

The Blades have been to League One and back since they were last in the Premier League in 2007, spending six seasons in the third tier before gaining promotion to the Championship in 2017 under Chris Wilder's stewardship.

Wilder, a Blades fan and former player, has ushered in a new style of play at Bramall Lane, which bore plentiful fruit as his side edged out Yorkshire rivals Leeds United to finish second in the Championship last term.

Over the course of last season, Wilder adopted a 3-5-2 system, encouraging his team to play out from the back and get forward in numbers.

A key feature of United's play their overlapping centre-backs and, using Opta data, we have assessed just how the Blades' system works.

 

Three at the back... with a twist

Wilder's switch to a back three propelled United up the Championship and it is a fascinating, inspired approach.

The Blades' centre-backs are commonly Jack O'Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham, while Phil Jagielka rejoined the club in the off-season and provides an experienced head from the bench if required.

United's defenders are all comfortable with the ball at their feet and, while in possession, the two wider centre-backs – typically O'Connell and Basham – are given license to push on.

That allows the wing-backs to drive further forward, forcing opposing full-backs and wingers to defend, while rival midfielders must also draw wide to cover the advancing centre-backs.

Space is subsequently opened up in the middle of the park, with Oliver Norwood often dropping deep to dictate the play.

John Lundstram – whose goal earned a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on Sunday – and John Fleck press high to join the strikers, providing United with six attacking options within their opponents' half.

High risk, high reward

The decision to commit so many players forward does, of course, leave United open on the counter-attack.

However, Wilder's side play with pace and aggression once over the halfway line, a fact reflected by their attempted 12,579 passes in the opposition half over the course of the 2018-19 Championship campaign – the most of any team in the second tier.

Of those attempted passes, 8,720 were successful, while United's players had 1,251 touches in the opposition box, a tally which ranked behind only Leeds and champions Norwich City.

Though United's wing-backs do push further up the field, Wilder's men are not overly reliant on crosses into the area, with their total of 720 coming in as the sixth highest in the Championship last term.

Once United do have the ball in the area, last season's top scorer Billy Sharp is often the player to wrap up the move, though club-record signing Ollie McBurnie may be expected to fill that role this season. 

Basham had 78 touches in the opposition box last season, ranking at 11th in the Championship, while the centre-back also created 29 chances. Only Enda Stevens provided more goalscoring opportunities for United. 

Defensive solidity

Wilder's system may allow United's attacking players to thrive, but it also enables the Blades to remain steady in defence.

Though the centre-backs may get caught out by a pass in behind, the three defenders do remain in their shape while in possession, screening the width of the pitch.

While defending, the wing-backs tuck inside, with Norwood and the two more advanced midfielders dropping back to provide a barrier in front of the back three.

United's lack of pace up top could prove an issue if the Blades are pushed deep into their third, though the arrival of Callum Robinson from Preston North End does mean an out ball is available, while McBurnie or David McGoldrick are capable of holding up the play.

Against stronger teams, Wilder's system may well be found out, but so far United's commitment to their style of play is working out just fine.

Related items

  • Mourinho keen to 'do a Mauricio' with five-year stay at Tottenham Mourinho keen to 'do a Mauricio' with five-year stay at Tottenham

    Jose Mourinho knows Tottenham is probably his last major club job in English football and would love to emulate the length of Mauricio Pochettino's stay in north London.

    Spurs sacked Pochettino after five-and-a-half years at the helm on Tuesday, moving swiftly to secure former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United boss Mourinho as his replacement.

    The 56-year-old has penned terms until the end of the 2022-23 season and spoke glowingly of the squad, facilities and wider project he has inherited in north London when facing the media for the first time in his new role.

    As such, he has designs on staying in charge even longer and matching Pochettino's longevity.

    "I would love to stay many years," he said. "When I say many years, I know realistically how football is.

    "If I could do a Mauricio, five-and-a-half years, it would be amazing."

    A three-time Premier League winner across two spells at Chelsea, Mourinho suggested he has 10 years left in the game when pondering his long-term future.

    That means, if all goes to plan at Spurs, this job will conclude his time in a division with which he will be forever associated.

    Other potential stops sketched out for his final years could be boyhood club Vitoria Setubal back in Portugal and his national team,

    "So, I'm 56, 61 [after five years at Tottenham]," he added.

    "Ten more years – Vitoria Setubal, Portugal. It's maybe the last [job in England], yeah."

    The immediate item on the agenda for Mourinho is a trip to face old foe Manuel Pellegrini and a West Ham side enduring a similarly underwhelming campaign to Spurs.

    Tottenham are winless in the Premier League since the end of September, with a return of three draws from their past five matches.

    They lie 14th – two places and a point better off than West Ham, who last won six games ago at home to Mourinho's old employers from Old Trafford.

  • Western Sydney Wanderers 2-3 Melbourne City: Maclaren snatches late victory for A-League leaders Western Sydney Wanderers 2-3 Melbourne City: Maclaren snatches late victory for A-League leaders

    In-form striker Jamie Maclaren scored in the 92nd minute as Melbourne City snatched a 3-2 win at Western Sydney Wanderers to move four points clear at the A-League summit.

    City conceded four second-half goals to lose 4-3 at Brisbane Roar last weekend, but they bounced back to edge a thrilling game at Bankwest Stadium on Friday.

    Wanderers could have drawn level on points with their opponents with a victory and they were ahead inside 90 seconds, Kwame Yeboah converting Bruce Kamau's first-time cross - the goal allowed to stand following a VAR check for offside.

    Joshua Brillante and Daniel Georgievski came close to scoring for their respective sides in an open game, but it was Maclaren who netted the game's next goal from the penalty spot after Pirmin Schwegler pulled on Denis Genreau's shirt.

    The visitors completed the turnaround 17 minutes later when Lachlan Wales squared the ball for Brillante to tap in, only for Yeboah to hammer past Dean Bouzanis to complete his brace after Alexander Meier unselfishly headed the ball into his path.

    Late drama followed, however, as Maclaren was given time and space to turn inside the box and rifle home late on to make it nine goals for the season.

  • Flick on Pochettino to Bayern rumours - the club has options Flick on Pochettino to Bayern rumours - the club has options

    Hansi Flick says it is not his position to analyse the merits of other coaches amid rumours Mauricio Pochettino could become Bayern Munich's permanent new boss.

    Bayern, who sacked Niko Kovac earlier this month, have placed Flick in charge at the Allianz Arena until at least the Bundesliga's mid-season break.

    Pochettino has been linked to the post after being sacked by Tottenham this week, although reports suggest Real Madrid view the Argentine as a successor to Zinedine Zidane at the end of the season.

    For Flick, the only focus is on the immediate job in hand, which is Bayern's trip to Fortuna Dusseldorf on Saturday.

    "It is not my job to analyse coaching colleagues," he told a pre-match news conference. 

    "The club now has all the options to look for the future, whatever they want. I'm doing my job now and trying to be successful with the team.

    "Football is a day-to-day business, it can be different tomorrow than yesterday. We'll wait until the winter break, then we'll sit down together."

    On being placed in charged for the interim, Flick added: "We prepare just as before. 

    "I am completely satisfied with the solution. It is crucial that the club has time to think about what is right for the future."

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.