Sheffield United: Chris Wilder reveals how he plans to improve The Blades returns in front of goal
Later today, when Quique Sánchez Flores and his assistants sit down to discuss Sheffield United over cortados and turróns, second-guessing their tactics will not be the most challenging item on the meeting's agenda.
The visitors' are unlikely to change formation. Chris Wilder's principles, his belief that attack is always the best form of defence, absolutely non-negotiable.
The United manager's team selections are usually predictable too. Except in attack where, after signing three new centre-forwards during the summer transfer window, there are now six at his disposal. It is a situation which allows him to rotate and attempt to exploit an opponent's defensive weaknesses. But one, acknowledging that goalscorers in particular thrive on confidence and consistency, poses a test of the United manager's interpersonal skills.
"We've got different people for different situations," Wilder said. "Personally, and we deliberately did it, I think that's a good position to be in. All of the boys bring their own things to the table. They don't all have the same qualities. But obviously, like everyone else, the lads up top would like to play all the time."
This weekend, when United visit a Watford team without a win since April, Wilder is unlikely to make wholesale changes to his starting eleven. Most of the players who featured against Liverpool last weekend, when the European champions were given a God Almighty scare before prevailing in extremely fortuitous fashion, are expected to be called upon at Vicarage Road. Flores, who embarked upon his second spell in Hertfordshire a month ago, can probably name nine of the players Wilder plans to select right now. But when it comes to United's strikers, the Spaniard might struggle. Since the beginning of the season, Wilder has experimented with six different partnerships. With Billy Sharp returning from suspension, that could be seven if the 52-year-old decides to pitch his captain straight back into action.
"It's a conundrum and a difficult one," Wilder said, admitting too much upheaval can impact upon performances. "We don't really have a formula as such. But the goalkeeper doesn't really change and nor does the back three or the back five. You might swap the midfielders around a little bit here and there but the real change-up is with the forwards. They recognise that's going to happen because of the work they have to do in and out of possession, especially with the way we play."
Despite being 12th in the table after taking eight points from their opening seven games, Wilder is convinced United should actually be higher given the number of chances they create. Taking them, however, has been a problem. Leon Clarke and the otherwise excellent John Fleck were guilty of missing chances either side of Dean Henderson's mistake, which gifted Jurgen Klopp's squad their win five days ago.
Although the search for greater returns in front of goal partly explain Wilder's selection policy, there is another reason too.
"I think the dynamic of the game has changed," he continued. "Some clubs still go with the same but with the step up we've made, it's important we keep them (the centre-forwards) mentally and physically fresh as well.
"Also, we have to be tactically spot on in this league in terms of giving us the best possible chance of getting a result."
Given how the meeting with Liverpool unfolded, there have inevitably been calls for Sharp to be granted an opportunity having served a three match ban following his sending-off against Southampton; a fixture which saw David McGoldrick spurn four good openings. Lys Mousset, signed from AFC Bournemouth during the aftermath of United's promotion from the Championship, is also in the frame. By praising the contributions of Oli McBurnie and Callum Robinson during United's most recent outing, Wilder appeared to suggest they will again be given the nod. But equally, his comments during the club's weekly media briefing could be designed to confuse Flores, whose squad are rooted to the bottom of the table.
"I've had a chat with Bill and he'll say he was unlucky (to get a red card)," Wilder said. "I thought he didn't need to do it and we could have done with him around. He's an obvious finisher and a really good player. He's played in a bounce game and he's raring to go."
"The strikers have got to marry up both, a performance with goals," he added. "You don't create chances if you don't play well as a team. We've been pleased with that and we've been pleased we got the balance right. You've got to try and score against these teams. But you also understand these teams are going to push you back at times. But we want to go forward and we want to score. We've created more opportunities up to now than we did at the same stage in the Championship last season. So the pressure is on us to score."
Wilder, who confirmed the injury which has forced McGoldrick to miss United's last three outings has yet to heal, is not placing sole responsibility for improving their 'goals for' figures on his front-line. Fleck, who has been named in the latest Scotland squad, is also being challenged to help-out.
"We feel there's a little bit more to come from John at the business end of the pitch," Wilder said. "He has to add goals to his performances, which have been great. He's a proper midfielder. He's got a wand of a left peg. When he hits it, it stays hit. He's got proper power. That's the last little bit, add goals to John's overall performance."
United travel south unbeaten on the road since January. Watford last tasted league success at home at the beginning of April, when relegated Fulham were beaten 4-1.
"Especially at our team, we have to up our game and improve on and off the pitch," Wilder said."The harsh reality is, sometimes you don't get what you feel you deserve. But as I said afterwards, we're in this for points and have to up our game and move on to the next challenge."