Sheffield United: Why things are not always as they seem with Chris Wilder
After every single game, despite his back to basics reputation, Chris Wilder sits down to examine theÂ statistics it has spawned.
The Sheffield United manager rarely speaks publicly about his habit. But the clues, the fact he can alwaysÂ trot out the numbers at a moment's notice, are there.
It is a routine which is helping shape his squad's approach to the Championship season and designed, asÂ became apparent following last weekend's victory over Preston North End, to ensure it becomes anÂ intelligent as well as industrious unit.
The mask slipped:
Three days ago, less than an hour after watching David McGoldrick's dramatic late winner lift United toÂ fourth in the table, Wilder strode purposefully into Bramall Lane's media suite and began to dissect theÂ fixture.
Congratulations were offered. Commiserations, given his respect for Alex Neil, were extended too. But itÂ was following an admission he did not like "having to win matches twice" when the 51-year-old's carefullyÂ crafted mask slipped again.
"They made the changes and we lost our shape," Wilder replied in response to a question about Preston'sÂ earlier fight-back from 2-0 down. "Our discipline went a bit as well.Â
"Two nil is a dangerous scoreline but you don't have to win a game twice. We had 39 per cent possessionÂ against Aston Villa and yet people are talking about it as being one of the outstanding performances inÂ recent years."
Passion and scientific procedure:
United's 4-1 victory over the former European champions was, Wilder identified correctly, their finestÂ display in a long while. It was also instructive, amid the references to attitude and desire, to hear himÂ shoehorn that figure into the conversation.
The message was clear. Despite their attacking principles, regardless of their desire to provide enthrallingÂ entertainment, there are times when he wants United to keep things tight and strangle the opposition'sÂ enthusiasm.
"There were a few times when we went chasing the ball," Wilder continued. "Times when, like I say, weÂ probably didn't have to do it although, if I'm being honest, there are worse habits to have."
"What you've got to do, mind, is keep evolving," he added. "Keep the core of what you've got, stay true toÂ the things you're about, but always try and see where you can improve. Especially because the margins areÂ so tight in this division. Little improvements, here and there, can make a really big difference."
Where Wilder is different:
Wilder is frequently portrayed as an old school coach and, to some extent, it suits. Tactics and technique,Â in his coaching manual, are worth nothing without hard work.
But, as his side prepares for Saturday's visitÂ to Millwall, they will also spend a couple of hours in the classroom; otherwise known as the SteelphaltÂ Academy's video theatre.
"We use everything we can to try and get better," Wilder said. "There isn't anything we won't look at or tryÂ and do if we think it's worthwhile. The science aspect is growing and, like lots of other people, we use it asÂ well."
Where Wilder does differ from many of his counterparts, however, is his refusal to become a hostage to theÂ statistics compiled by analysts. At United football, for all its fascination with diagrams and percentages,Â remains an essentially human game.
"If you don't win your tackles, headers and races," Wilder said. "Then you aren't going to achieve veryÂ much."