Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: Why I believe Blades' 'proper' team can cause a real upset against Liverpool this weekend after Everton victory
Well, as weekends go, from a Sheffield United FC point of view, that one will take some beating, won’t it?
Both our senior teams, the men’s and women’s made the trip over to the two Merseyside giants of Everton and Liverpool respectively, and came back as winners! A quite outstanding performance from both teams, and results that are making the whole football world stand up and take notice that the Blades are back in town.
So, as I sit here on a Monday morning positively glowing from all the weekend’s action, you’d imagine that it would be relatively easy to type some words out to describe the past few days events. Errrr no! Not the case!
Not the case at all, as after the thousands of words already written, the countless interview and media reports listened to, and not forgetting of course the words of ‘wisdom’ spouted by some TV pundits, sometimes I feel that there’s nowhere left to go for me with these columns!
I always try to find an angle not previously covered or a new theme to go at, and my worst fear is to get a bit repetitive and tedious… if it ever gets like that I’ll stop, I promise! But occasionally, I do have to return to my thoughts and words written in the past, because the situation demands it.
This week, then, is one of those situations because, at the risk of blowing my own trumpet too hard, I featured the ‘case for the defence’ as a theme just two weeks ago.
And after the magnificent defensive display at Goodison Park on Saturday I’m allowing myself a bit of self-praise and patting myself on the back as……I TOLD YOU SO!
For three seasons now we’ve been enthralled and we’ve marvelled at our free-flowing attacking Blades team, as they romped up two divisions and set new standards in the quality of their play. Along the way, the defensive aspects of it were sometimes not so much forgotten, but taken for granted.
This season, it’s a totally different matter, as the quality of our defensive unit will be tested far more regularly and vigorously. Not only will it get the praise it’s due, it’ll be one of the key things that keeps us in this division.
So far, albeit after only six games, it seems we are more than up to the Premier League survival test, and Saturday was further proof of that - as we limited an Everton side with six previous straight home victories under their belt to only three shots on target. And those weren’t even very good chances, to be honest.
Our team defended as a unit quite brilliantly; closing down the spaces, not getting too stretched and then defending properly when it was most needed, namely in and around our own penalty box. The word ‘properly’, doesn’t actually do the defensive display justice, but I’m not going to go overboard and use words like ‘heroically’ or ‘desperately’ as it really wasn’t a case of last-gasp, backs-to-the-wall stuff at any stage I felt.
Whatever Everton tried to throw at us, which admittedly wasn’t that clever at times, we coped with quite comfortably, I thought. Sure, our defenders, especially our centre-backs, got some great blocks in at times, and cleared danger very very well, but at no stage were Everton so much on top that we were hanging on for dear life defensively.
What gave the game a very lop-sided view statistically was actually our inability to keep hold of the ball when we got it, so Everton were able to dominate both possession and territory – something that Chris Wilder picked up on immediately after the game. As usual, Chris was spot on with his assessment… even though we won, we really didn’t actually play that well.
Now here is time for a bit of Kev Gage self-praise again folks… Last week after the Southampton I wrote: ‘We’ll play worse this season a few times and win.’ I didn’t expect my words to come true quite so quickly but I’ll happily take it!
So with one Merseyside Premier League giant slayed, we move on to another one as the small matter of welcoming the champions of Europe to Bramall Lane, in a live TV fixture to be watched by hundreds of millions of people all round the globe. And do you know what… I’m quite confident we’ll give them a hard time, compete for every ball, give hardly anything away, and cause them a few problems to boot.
This will happen because we have a ‘proper’ team, with proper defenders who do their defensive duties when required, with a ‘keeper behind them who in a few year’s time will be England’s first choice. They’ll be tested to their limits on Saturday by the attacking quality of Liverpool, but some team, somewhere at some time will stop Liverpool’s winning run…
And at Bramall Lane on Saturday, I believe our brilliant, battling, brave Blades will be the team to do it.
Bring it on. UTB!