Sheffield United: Events at Everton proved football isn't always about sweet science
Football, is it fair to say, has become obsessed with science.
Whereas managers only used to be bothered about the final scoreline, now they fuss over things like possession percentages, metres run and other statistics. It is a trend which means things impossible to quantify are no longer viewed as important. But here is the rub. Qualities like personality, commitment and strength of character are what usually decide the outcome of matches.
Saturday's fixture at Goodison Park supported this argument. Everton saw more of the ball and enjoyed more shots on target. But Sheffield United prevailed because they were prepared to dig-in and, during a one-sided first-half, roll with the punches.
"I just thought we turned the ball over too much," Chris Wilder, the visiting manager, said afterwards. "We've set high standards over the last three years or so and we know what out stock performance is. It's a funny old game because last week (against Southampton) I thought we were excellent and lost. I'm not going to con the punters by saying we were brilliant here. I thought we were under the cosh for the majority of it."
Although Wilder's analysis was overly critical - deliberately so to guard against complacency - United did appear destined to ensure a difficult afternoon when Marco Silva's players seized control of the opening exchanges. The trouble was, from the Portuguese's perspective, the opposition's durability gnawed away at their confidence. Dominant at the start, Everton finished the contest looking disillusioned, lost and totally bereft of ideas. United, by contrast, maintained their sense of purpose.
Although Lys Mousset's goal sealed United's victory, Yerry Mina having earlier turned into his own net, this success was secured at the back. As Richarlison threatened to run riot, dragging United's midfielders out of position by drifting effortlessly across the pitch, Chris Basham and Jack O'Connell, marshalled by the excellent John Egan, combined to produce a defensive masterclass. It wasn't always pretty. But that was the point. Wilder's men were prepared to go the extra mile and, as Basham reminded when he flung himself in front of one of the Brazilian's passes, do whatever it took to prevail.
"Half our team are Scousers," Wilder said. "So it was a big day for them. I didn't realise all of them were Liverpool fans to be honest. I thought John Lundstram supported Everton."
"Joking aside," he continued. "I know all about rivalries. Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, I know what that means because I'm a Blade. So did that play a part. I honestly don't know. But what I do is that they'll have been determined to go out there and give absolutely everything. The same, to be honest, as they always do. The rest of the lads as well."
It would be a mistake, however, to attribute United's success to guts and grit alone. Their opener - Callum Robinson and O'Connell unnerving Jordan Pickford before Mina connected with Oliver Norwood's corner - might have been a shade fortuitous. But there were examples of real technical excellence and tactical sophistication too.
Lundstram's pass, which presented Mousset with the chance to slide home past Pickford, was simply superb. Earlier, as Everton went in search of an equaliser, Wilder and his staff made a series of system changes which prevented the hosts from rediscovering their rhythm. The introduction of Phil Jagielka, like Lundstram a former Everton player, and Basham's move into a more central area proved particularly effective. Ultimately, though, United simply applied themselves better. Took care of those unmeasurable variables.
"That's possibly as poor as we've been with the ball, first-half at least, all season," Wilder said. "But we had a solidity that means, even if we don't use it as well as we can, that we always give ourselves a chance of getting a result."