Sheffield United: The growing trend prompting a tactical re-think behind the scenes at Bramall Lane
Millwall could become the latest team to implement a change of formation in order to stifle Sheffield United's attacking threat after it emerged Neil Harris, the London club's manager, is experimenting with a back three ahead of Saturday's meeting between the two sides.
If Harris does decide to make the switch, it will be the third time in four outings United's opponents have ditched their preferred system after studying Chris Wilder's team.
Although the approach has enjoyed mixed success, Millwall performed an impromptu trial during the closing stages of their EFL Cup tie against Fulham last night.
"It is something we might consider but then the personnel becomes key; who is fit and who is not," Harris replied when asked if he might persist with the idea against United. "When you play against good players, if you match them up player for player they can be better than you but if you are not man for man they can hurt you anyway.Â
"It was important we changed to get a higher press on the ball. In the first half, against Fulham, we couldn't get near enough to to the ball to make the challenges."
A backhanded compliment:
United have predominately played 3-5-2 since Wilder's appointment two years ago, despite frequently changing shape themselves during the later stages of games.Â
But, after identifying a growing trend among rival clubs to match them up, the former Northampton Town and Oxford chief has made a series of subtle adjustments to both his squad's shape and tactics in recent weeks. Indeed, his demand for United to become more "flexible" is in part a response to the decision of Bristol City's Lee Johnson and Alex Neil of Preston North End to mirror their approach during recent outings at Ashton Gate and Bramall Lane.
Neil, whose men were beaten 3-2, late spoke opening about the reasoning behind the switch, saying: "We thought it was something worth doing and, to some degree, it worked. By doing that, we were able to stop them overlapping and overloading too much, which is something they like to do."
Wilder was more accurate:
Unsurprisingly, Wilder saw the encounter differently, insisting United had "dominated" all of the first-half and most of the second. His interpretation of how the fixture unfolded was more accurate than Neil's but it was still instructive to hear the Scot talk so openly about Preston's game-plan and the challenges United face as they attempt to mount another top six challenge.
The state of play:
Wilder's players climbed to fourth after beating the visitors from Deepdale, 18 places above Millwall who finished eighth last term. Only three sides - West Bromwich Albion, Middlesbrough and Leeds - have scored more goals than United so far this term.
"Whatever shape you play, what doesn't change are the fundamentals of defending and attacking," Harris said.