Chris Wilder doesn't need to 'spy' like Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa to know what Aston Villa's tactics will be

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First things first, Chris Wilder wanted to make it clear there had been no subterfuge or shenanigans.

Sheffield United had not dispatched, as Leeds’ Marcelo Bielsa famously did 17 months ago, a member of their backroom staff to spy on events at the opposition’s training complex.

But 48 hours before his team return to action with a visit to the West Midlands, Wilder admitted to being damn near certain how Aston Villa will line up. And the same, he admitted, goes for his opposite number Dean Smith.

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“Without giving our team away, we’ve played a certain way all season only really switching the boys at the top of the pitch,” Wilder, the United manager admitted, earlier today. “When Dean gets the team sheet on Wednesday, I don’t think he’s going to be scratching his head and wondering about what shape we’re going to be playing.

“Without doing a Marcelo and peering over fences at Bodymoor Heath, we can say exactly the same thing about them. If he (Bielsa) had done that here, I think the outcome might have been a little bit different from what happened at Derby, though. Have you seen the size of our security guards? Joking aside, though, I still found it pretty amusing.”

Plenty has changed since United last took to the pitch, on March 7th. After forcing the suspension of the fixture calendar, the malign lingering presence of Covid-19 means the season - nearly 14 weeks after it was mothballed - will be completed behind closed doors as sport complies with strict social distancing measures.

Some things, however, remain reassuringly familiar - such as United’s tactical set-up and, even though Smith’s men are fighting for survival towards the bottom of the table - Villa’s own systems and approach.

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“You can never replicate an actual game,” Wilder continued, reflecting on United’s recent warm-up meetings with Huddersfield Town, Hull City and Barnsley. “But there’s certain things you look for and want out of them.

Sheffield United return to Premier League action at Aston Villa on Wednesday evening: LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty ImagesSheffield United return to Premier League action at Aston Villa on Wednesday evening: LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images
Sheffield United return to Premier League action at Aston Villa on Wednesday evening: LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images

“For Huddersfield, because that was the first one, we mixed it up and did reduced minutes. For Hull we played close to the first team and then changed it completely for the one against Barnsley. That was for the boys who needed minutes.

“And we all speak. All managers and coaches talk to each other so we’ve all got a pretty good idea of what is going on elsewhere too, without having to be a bit ‘off’ about it.”

“We’ve got enough out of all the games,” Wilder added. “We wanted the lads to get a feel of the ball and to get good habits back into them. The players have all pushed each other over the course of those three games and have produced performances we’re quite happy with,”

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United will travel to Villa Park in seventh, knowing that win will see them climb to fifth with nine matches remaining. Smith’s charges, who were also promoted last term albeit via the play-offs, are in 19th - two points behind 17th placed Watford but with an inferior goal difference.

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