In this article series I will provide match analysis/reports for all of the pre-season games I attend live. Some of the detail documented will be directly beneficial for Fantasy Premier League and some will be more tactical based information or interesting/funny stories.
Match 1 – Sheffield United 2-0 Northampton (20/07/19)
Sheffield United lined up in their usual 3-5-2 system. In the first half, Moore played in goal, alongside a back 3 consisting of O’Connell, Egan and Jagielka from left to right, with Stevens at left wing-back and K. Freeman at right wing-back. Norwood acted as a single pivot, sitting just behind Lundstram (listed as a £4.0m defender in FPL) and Fleck who filled in the other 2 central midfield roles. McGoldrick and Robinson led the line for the first half.
Chris Wilder’s first substitution occured at half-time, bringing L. Freeman on for Robinson. Freeman played in the second striker role for 17 minutes, before further changes were made around the 60 minute mark which saw Basham, Clarke, Sharp and Baldock come on for Jagielka, Lundstram, McGoldrick and K. Freeman respectively. These subs saw L. Freeman drop into midfield, with Sharp and Clarke forming a pair up front. For the first 60 minutes, Norwood had played the ‘6’ role with Lundstram and Fleck operating in ‘8’ roles either side and in front of him, however, these substitutions saw L. Freeman act as an attacking midfield with Norwood and Fleck operating as a double pivot.
The final changes were all like-for-like replacements with Bryan, Stearman and Slater replacing Stevens, Egan (76 mins) and Fleck (87 mins).
Both of the blades goals came in the first half, from the penalty spot, from Oliver Norwood, dispatched confidently to the goalkeeper’s right hand side. The first of which was won by new signing, Callum Robinson, who was tripped as he went to shoot and the second was a foul on K. Freeman. Norwood stepped up and finished both penalties with great confidence and conviction.
Northampton offered almost nothing from an attacking perspective and therefore goalkeeper, Simon Moore, had precious little to do aside from a few routine stops from tame shots taken from outside the box.
Overall defensively, Sheffield United looked solid and what really stood out was the understanding between centre-backs, wing-backs and midfielders about when and where they should be positioned to help each other out in possession and throughout build-up play. For the majority of the time, they were comfortable passing out from the back and on a number of occasions utilised a few quick and accurate passes to efficiently bypass the Northampton press. The quality of oppositon has to be taken into account here as they did not make it an extremely difficult test for the blades, however, when called upon, the defence were there to do their job and did so effectively throughout the whole match.
One area that I see as potentially a weakness (although they weren’t punished by it today) is aerial balls played in-behind their defence, particularly in the spaces between left and right centre-backs and wing-backs. There were often gaps left open that Northampton weren’t quite capable of exploiting, ones which the likes of Mohamed Salah and Leroy Sane eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and have in a sandwich in the evening even though completely full. I also fear that tall, muscular strikers could give the centre-backs a fair deal of grief as they were beaten a number of times in the air by averagely built Northampton players.
Sheffield United have gained some fame for their unusual tactic of encouraging the wide centre-backs to get forward with the attack to provide an overlap option. This was evident right from the start, with O’Connell especially, looking to link up with Enda Stevens on the left hand side. In fact, often what would happen was that O’Connell would provide the width along the left flank and Stevens would use this opportunity to adopt a more central midfield position as well as popping up in the box on a number of occasions. Most of the crosses aimed towards the strikers in the box came from O’Connell.
It was disappointing to only see Billy Sharp for the final 30 minutes, as by then the game had lost a lot of its urgency and chances were few and far between for both sides. This wasn’t helped by the fact his striking partner was Leon Clarke rather than either of David McGoldrick or Callum Robinson. Sharp had no chances to score, however, his link-up play was a level above what was produced in the first half.
Whoever the 2 strikers are in the 3-5-2 formation, the same principle of one dropping deeper to collect the ball and the other staying on the shoulder of the defence seems to apply. In the first half, this was McGoldrick and Robinson, with both of them doing each role at some point, however, McGoldrick was the one most commonly dropping and contributing to the build-up. McGoldrick had a number of chances to score from open play, sending an unmarked close-to-goal header wide, 2 shots over the bar as well as having 2 shots (including a one-on-one) saved, at least one of which he should most definitely have converted. Robinson won the first penalty, however, I was a bit disappointed with his overall link-up play and I thought he gave the ball away too easily on occasions and a lack of concentration caused him to be wasteful at the start of the half. It’s early days in his Sheffield United career however and teething troubles are to be expected as he gets to know the playing styles of his new teammates.
There were an additional few tactical points that I noticed that may be of interest to some of you. Norwood would position himself on the edge of the opponent’s box for corners and on one occasion, a corner was played directly to him which led to an immediate shooting opportunity. This is potentially something that Chris Wilder may wish to utilise in the Premier League next season if traditional corners are not proving to be effective. In terms of structure for an attacking corner, all 3 of the centre-backs would move forwards into the opposition penalty area, leaving only Enda Stevens back on the halfway line.
For any followers of the Hashtag United Academy, Scott Pollock came on for Northampton towards the end of the match and looked right at home in the centre of midfield, constantly checking and being aware of his surroundings as all good midfielders should. He’s also a very friendly guy and took time with myself and others to chat and do photos etc.
I was lucky enough to speak to some of the players after the match and for the blades fans out there, from the conversations I had and heard, your players appear to have a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality going into Premier League life. It will be a tough season ahead for Sheffield United that’s for sure and I fear Chris Wilder and his players may have a relegation battle on their hands, but for now, there’s every reason to be optimisitic and approach the season with the right attitude and I am looking forward to seeing how their unique tactical approach translates into the Premier League.
Keep an eye out for articles coming very soon covering Man United, Arsenal, Leicester, Wolves, Bournemouth and Norwich!
Written by Nick Pasquet
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