Sheffield United Struggling With Tactical Balance

Sheffield United

Sheffield United were undoubtedly the 2019/20 Premier League over-achievers. Chris Wilder led the Blades to a ninth-place finish in their first season back in the top-flight since 2007.

Despite the expectation that they would largely struggle, Sheffield United defied their early-season critics and stuck to their defensive, counter-attacking principles which Wilder instilled since he took over the club in 2016.

Yet, a shaky start to the 2020/21 campaign is now highlighting questions over the balance of Wilder’s team. With no win in four Premier League games and just the one goal scored and six conceded, future success at Bramall Lane will largely depend on Wilder weighting a rigid defence with more cutting edge upfront.

Sheffield United Struggling With Team Balance

Fine Margins

Last season, the Blades won nine games by a margin of one goal and picked up eight 1-1 draws. This season, they have lost three of their four league games by a single goal.

These are the fine margins that come with the counter-attacking play which Wilder favours. But the effectiveness of this approach relies on being ruthless in front of goal.

This has been lacking from the Blades this season. Just one goal is their only return from 33 shots on goal, this has been the difference between getting points on the board and not doing so.

John Lundstram‘s miss from 10 yards out, which would have put the Blade’s ahead in their 1-0 loss to Leeds United, was a prime example of the type of chance that was taken last season. Overall, the Blades have missed four big chances in their Premier League games this season – the sixth-highest of all the league.

Again, in the 2-1 loss to Arsenal last weekend, it was the second Arsenal goal that cost Sheffield United a point. Two quick-fire goals from Arsenal proved the difference, despite a fairly even game where both teams only registered six shots on goal. It was the fine margins again that cost United, despite David McGoldrick‘s late rally.

New Signings Need Time

With eight new signings arriving at Bramall Lane during the transfer window, Wilder has added some extra quality to his core squad. The likes of Ethan Ampadu and Rhian Brewster will add some extra depth and competition to the Blades’ squad this season. But, to learn to play in Wilder’s style, these signings will need time.

Only Oliver Burke and Aaron Ramsdale of the new signings have featured heavily for Sheffield United in the opening five games in all competitions. Wilder rarely deviates from his regular starting 11 and has only made small tweaks in the opening games. He introduced Ethan Ampadu and Jack Robinson into the defence recently, but otherwise, has largely stuck with the same team in his preferred 3-5-2 formation.

It will be difficult for the likes of Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe to break into this core squad. Wilder may also need to fast track some of these players into the team, especially Brewster, who could add the cutting edge Sheffield need to find if they are to start picking up points.


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