“On the training pitch and in the dressing room, Chris has proved himself as a superb motivator and also, I think, a quite brilliant tactical innovator. The Blades have genuinely invented a new playing style with their use of over-lapping centre-backs. It really is unique!” – Kevin Gage, speaking to 90MAAT.
Sheffield United have followed the guns-a-blazing philosophy this season. The Premier League new boys have secured reputable results against the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United and are lounging contently in sixth place – with the third-best defence in the league to boot. But why have the Blades caused so many problems for teams in the division?
It comes down to Chris Wilder’s ingenious, and somewhat precarious, deployment of his centre-backs. In his 3-5-2 set-up, the wing-backs of Enda Stevens and George Baldock push forward and the defence works in a unique ‘false five’ system – with the side-orientated centre-backs overlapping and overloading the flanks to thin the middle of the opposition.
This spreads out the midfields of high pressing teams, especially stereotypical ‘big’ teams who are accustomed to pressuring the opposition, which allows Sheffield United’s offensive players to exploit gaps in central passing lanes.
Adversely, Wilder exercises the right to shut up shop by moulding into a 5-3-2, or even a 5-4-1, whereby the defensive trifecta of Jack O’Connell, Chris Basham and either John Egan or the veteran Phil Jagielka compact to make a solid defensive line instead of leaving themselves open – O’Connell especially acting as proven physical force at 25-years old.
This ability to come out of the blocks and attack like a Premier League big-dog and then drop back and defend as if their top-tier status depends on it manages to thwart complacent proven Premier League sides; exactly how Everton were blown away by the Blades in their 2-0 loss.
Obviously this doesn’t make the Blades impermeable to conceding; Manchester United managed to score three in ten minutes when Sheffield United deployed their defensive reinforcements.
But the Yorkshire outfit’s almost startling and overwhelming attacking notions followed by stern defending is something that Premier League teams haven’t had to deal with before.
It is a rather traditional yet brilliantly inventive way of catching teams off guard – leaving the preseason relegation favourites salivating at the prospect of Europa League football and the renowned giants of the top tier dumbfounded as to how little Sheffield United have caused them so many problems on the stage of Premier League football.