On Saturday, Chelsea will travel to Bramall Lane, with Frank Lampard’s men hoping to extend their chances of securing Champions League football next season.
This campaign, Sheffield United have exceeded expectations – proving their worth in England’s top flight and putting in some worthy performances against the top teams in the division. Having only been promoted to the Premier League last summer, the Blades have spent the majority of their time in the top part of the table – conjuring up impressive wins against Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.
However, since Project Restart, they have become a shadow of their former selves. Disappointing results against the likes of Newcastle and Manchester United have seen Chris Wilder’s side slip down into seventh place, meaning their dreams for a place in European football may well and truly be out of reach.
That being said, Chelsea should not underestimate their opponents, and the most recent 1-0 win against Wolves means they still have a point to prove. During this stage of the season, every game is crucial and Lampard will be expecting nothing less than a win in Sheffield. Here, we delve into their tactics, how they set up and who we should look out for during our next league fixture…
Style Of Play
Typically, Sheffield United set up in a 3-5-2 formation, with Chris Wilder employing his ‘overlapping centre-backs’ tactic. Attacking wise, this means that Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell usually push up and go wide, overlapping the wing backs, while John Egan acts as a fixed sweeper. Enda Stevens and George Baldock can also push up further, with Sheffield United creating overloads on the flank – supplying many options to the player on the ball. They often like cutting inside, pushing the other defenders out of position. As they disrupt the other team’s defensive structure, this could pose a huge problem for Chelsea, with our defenders already looking particularly vulnerable, especially when it comes to losing track of their positions.
It’s also worth having a look at both the attackers and midfielders in Wilder’s system. As the Blades play with two forwards, it can make it harder for the opposition defence to track both, particularly when they run in the pockets between the full-backs and centre-backs. However, even if the likes of David McGoldrick or Lys Mousset are being tracked, this then means that the midfielders are able to run into space. Like the defenders, the midfielders are also a prime part of the attack, with both sets of players often entering the penalty area.
However, it’s in defence that Sheffield United shine the brightest. Playing with three centre-backs means they are able to contest for long balls, with the defenders covering more of the area. Thanks to their fitness levels, the midfielders are also able to drop back, making it difficult for the opposition attack to get past them. Chelsea may therefore face problems going up against their defence, especially when delivering crosses into the box. Overall, Wilder’s side are good at keeping their defensive shape that helps them win the ball back. Having conceded just 33 goals this season (the joint second best in the league after champions Liverpool), you could say their defensive output is pretty successful.
There is one man in particular who stands out for the Blades. Of course, we’re talking about Dean Henderson – the 23-year-old who has taken the Premier League by storm this season, with the youngster currently on loan from Manchester United. Looking at the stats, it’s clear to see what makes Henderson so impressive. The Englishman has managed 12 clean sheets this campaign – that’s the joint third best in the league. According to FBref, he also has a save percentage of 76.1%, putting him in the top category of Premier League keepers.
However, a player that often goes under the radar is Oliver Norwood. The 29-year-old has featured in all 34 league matches for the Blades this season, playing a crucial part in their success. Although the midfielder has only managed to hit the back of the net once, it’s what he does off the ball that’s impressive. Norwood is a prime part of their progression play, putting passes into the final third and delivering crosses into the box. He’s also great from set-pieces – making him a threat amongst the Chelsea players.
Although it’s clear that both Henderson and Norwood deserve their praises, the team would be nothing without their great sense of organisation. After all, Sheffield United are known for their sense of unity, rather than their set of ‘star players’. It’s how the team works together which makes them so successful,
On one side, we have a team that loves to concede; on the other, we have a team who prides themselves on their defence. Although our attack has been relatively positive in recent times, it’ll be hard to get past Sheffield United’s back line come Saturday.
During our last meeting, we managed a 2-2 draw against the Blades, featuring a late own goal from Kurt Zouma. The Blues went 2-0 up, with both goals coming from Tammy Abraham, but Wilder’s side were able to clinch a point that afternoon. Looking at our recent defensive performances, I can see something similar happening this weekend. However, with Lampard desperately fighting for a Champions League spot, hopefully we’ll be able to walk away with the full three points this time round.
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