Sheffield United: Chris Wilder discusses the figures which suggest his team is becoming more tactically astute
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, has pointed to recent performances against West Bromwich Albion and Reading as evidence of his team's growing tactical maturity ahead of tomorrow's meeting with Rotherham.
Victory over Paul Warne's side would see United move back into the automatic promotion positions, although Leeds could regain second-place later in the day, after a run of four wins and three draws from their last seven outings strengthened their Premier League credentials.
Although attention has inevitably focused on results, a trend has emerged in recent weeks which suggests United are becoming increasingly strategic rather than simply attempting to overwhelm opponents with attacking football. When Reading were beaten 4-0 at Bramall Lane last month, Wilder's players returned a possession rate of only 41 per cent while at The Hawthorns seven days later the figure was 43. United won that game 1-0, thanks to Kieran Dowell's early goal.
"People can look at stats in the ways they want," Wilder said, acknowledging United's coaching staff have been analysing the numbers this week. "But take Leicester City, they won a title with a possession average of around 35 per cent.
"You can look at it in different ways. We try and dominate because we feel that gives us more of a chance of creating the bigger chances. But then, if you get one of those and take it, there's no point in really opening yourself up. We have improved in that regard from last year."
United saw much more of the ball during Monday's visit to Sheffield Wednesday, which finished goalless. Despite admitting that surrendering a 3-0 lead at Aston Villa four weeks ago appears to contradict his claim about their tactical acumen, Wilder said: "We've looked at it. We dominated possession on Monday. But the Reading game, the match was done and dusted and we didn't need to do anything more.
"I think that tells you how our game management has improved. It shows you don't always have to go after games."
"The Villa one, that was a one off still in my book," he added. "But even there, for 85 minutes, the game management was good."
Becoming more efficient could hold the key to United's chances of reaching the top-flight next term, with Rotherham's visit representing the second of three derbies they must contest this month. Wilder's squad, who host Brentford on Tuesday, travel to Elland Road next weekend.
"We might make some changes," he said. "We recognise the effort the lads have been putting in and are putting in to get themselves into this position. But they will only be changes we think are right for a particular game and give us the best chance of winning."