Sheffield United: Chris Wilder breaks with tradition ahead of key clash with Leeds United
Billy Sharp will captain Sheffield United against Leeds on Saturday, Chris Wilder has confirmed, after taking the unusual step of provding an opponent with an insight into his match strategy.
Although Marcelo Bielsa, Wilder's counterpart at Elland Road, has regularly revealed his selections since the Spygate affair, the 51-year-old usually prefers to shroud United's in secrecy until an hour before kick-off.
But as his third-placed side prepares for its pivotal trip to West Yorkshire, Wilder announced Sharp will return to face his former club after starting Tuesday's victory over Brentford on the bench.
"One thing I can say is that Billy will be captaining our team," the United manager said. "We're not giving any top secrets away. We felt it was the right time to pull him out, so we could plot our way through this little period which we have successfully.
"Billy has played for that club, his scoring record is great and we feel he's fit and refreshed to lead us from the front."
Sharp, who rejoined United from Leeds three seasons ago, has scored six goals in his last five appearances against the team he represented between 2014 and 2015.
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Although Wilder's decision to break with tradition was partly designed to pre-empt any questions about Bielsa and Spygate, he will also hope the centre-forward's record sows a seed of doubt in Leeds' minds.
With Gary Madine serving the first of a three match ban following his red card against Brentford on Tuesday, Wilder must choose whether David McGoldrick, Scott Hogan or Conor Washington partners Sharp in attack. Although Washington has not featured since last month's meeting with Aston Villa, United have rotated their strikers on a regular basis in recent weeks. It is a policy Wilder insists has contributed to their nine match unbeaten run but has also forced him to consider how to best keep players sharp.
"It's not as easy as it looks, maintaining a rhythm," he said. "We look at the stats. But I'm a 23 or 24 man football club person. I'm a person who thinks you need 18, definitely 14 on the day, to get a result.
"There are times when we feel it is right to keep the right team and times to mix it up."
"You saw Mark Duffy comes back in, his desire," Wilder added. "Kieran Dowell, his performance was good at West Brom but possibly got caught up in it all a bit at Hillsborough (against Sheffield Wednesday). It's never going to be just the 11."