Sheffield United: There is more than simply three points at stake against Leeds United this weekend

His respect for the opposition was evident, describing them as a "hugely powerful" football club and acknowledging Marcelo Bielsa's managerial record "isn't too shabby."

By James Shield
Friday, 15 March, 2019, 14:48
Sheffield is a footballing powerhouse

But Chris Wilder, speaking ahead of Sheffield United's visit to Elland Road, admitted there is always something a little extra at stake when teams from his corner of Yorkshire lock horns with Leeds.

"There's always been that rivalry between the two biggest cities in the county," he said. "When one is doing well, the other gets accused of being jealous or whatever. Players have gone from here to up the road and they've travelled in the other direction too. Then, for those of us old enough to remember, there was all that stuff about Yorkshire Television as well. It's definitely there, that edge, but I actually think it's healthy."

Chris Wilder says Leeds is a "powerful" football club: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

Although many people living south of the Barnsley Canal would disagree with that conclusion, the struggle for footballing supremacy in the region has undoubtedly contributed to one of the Championship's most compelling promotion races in years.

United, ranked third, enter tomorrow's game two points behind Bielsa's second-placed squad. Both won earlier this week and, unbeaten in nine and three outings respectively, have spent much of the campaign driving each other on. 

But politically speaking, a markedly different picture emerges. From the relocation of Channel Four to the financing of the First Direct Arena, folk living in the Steel City and its environs often feel treated like second class citizens. In 1991, when YTV screened War of the Monster Trucks rather than Sheffield Wednesday's League Cup celebrations, it began to fuel their suspicions that Leeds receives preferential treatment from the Broad Acres' establishment. 

Given the significance of the fixture, Wilder's sole concern since Tuesday's victory over Brentford has been devising a strategy capable of helping United become only the second side to beat Bielsa's charges on home soil since the turn of the year. But, never one to pass up an opportunity, he could attempt use that sense of grievance as a motivational tool. After all, like his captain Billy Sharp, Wilder is Sheffield through and through.

Sheffield United and Leeds last faced each other in December: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"I suppose so," he replied in response to a question about the two clubs' different personalities. "From that point of view, I suppose you look at the current group of players. it's very foreign orientated there, with the manager and the recruitment.

“Historically, they are a huge club and should be in the Premier League. But it doesn't work that way. The Premier League, without being controversial, would probably love to see them in there."

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United suspected the same did not apply to them when, in April 2007, an independent PL commission elected to fine West Ham rather than impose a points deduction despite finding the Londoners had breached its rules outlawing third-party ownership of players. The decision, a later tribunal found in their favour, was the first in a series of events which ended with United being relegated from the top-flight and, four years later, slipping into the third tier. 

The start of that legal dispute, subsequently dubbed the 'Carlos Tevez Affair' also coincided with Leeds' slide towards League One. Neither they nor United have graced the highest level since. The outcome of their latest meeting will go a long way towards deciding who reaches it automatically and who must try and plot a course through the play-offs.

Chris Wilder challenges the officials during that match: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"You can find yourself out of it no matter what you infrastructure," Wilder continued. "You go to Elland Road and there's a picture of them playing at the Nou Camp that you walk past. It wasn't that long ago that they were in the third tier. It happens. It's happened to Sheffield Wednesday, it's happened to us. But they are a club on the up. They're ones to invest and they've certainly invested in the manager, I know that."

Wilder was one of the few manager's who defended Bielsa's actions during the 'Spygate' furore earlier this term when, after an incident at Derby County's training ground, it was revealed agents acting on the Argentine's behalf had been secretly observing opponents at work. Speaking before Leeds' 1-0 win at Bramall Lane in December, a match which was settled by a catastrophic individual error, Bielsa had also expressed admiration for Wilder and United's pioneering take on the 3-5-2 system devised by his compatriot Carlos Bilardo.

"He has been very complimentary about us," Wilder said. "He was complimentary in terms of how he set up here. I think he's been complimentary about the league as well. He's not come in and shouted and bawled about what he's done in the past. "They do things a little bit differently as well. they man mark, which you won't see too often now. He hauls players off after 20 minutes and doesn't seem to care about it."

United have tightened up their defensive act to such an extent since being beaten by Leeds three months ago that they make the short journey north hoping to record a seventh straight clean sheet. Facing Bielsa's men in front of a hostile, sell-out crowd will prove the biggest test of United's mettle so far this term.

Chris Wilder has the utmost respect for Marcelo Bielsa: Simon Hulme

"They can swarm all over you," Wilder said. "We went to watch the West Brom game at their place and that's what they did then. The encouraging thing is, we always turn up and we can also cause problems. The work the lads do is brilliant, right the way from the front they all dig in for each other."