Sheffield United: 'Trust me, this system messes with opposition minds'

By now, the moves are burned into their brains. Hours of work and repetition on the training ground have ensured when one player moves here, another must move there.

By James Shield
Tuesday, 06 August, 2019, 22:46
Callum Robinson in action during pre-season: James Wilson/Sportimage

In principle, Sheffield United tactical template should be a recipe for chaos. In practice, every single detail is perfectly choreographed.

Nearly three years in the making and the subject of extensive coverage in the both the written and broadcast media, opposition teams now know exactly what to expect whenever they lock horns with Chris Wilder's side. But, even though the sight of centre-halves charging past wing-backs no longer takes them by surprise, United's novel twist on a system which has been in existence for decades can still prove impossible to combat. Because, as Callum Robinson explains, it can mess with your mind.

Robinson, who moved to Bramall Lane earlier this summer ahead of the new Premier League campaign, has first hand experience of facing United and their innovative take on the 3-5-2 formation. Previously of Preston North End, the Republic of Ireland international admits the Lancastrians spent days in the classroom studying Wilder's methods before last season's meetings between the two clubs. However, with United doing the 'double' over Alex Neil's side, the work was rendered useless. Now he is plying his trade at Bramall Lane, Robinson is happy to explain why.

Callum Robinson could make his competitive debut for Sheffield United this weekend: Eoin Doyle/Sheffield Utd

"It's really hard to play against," he said. "It's rare, when you're a forward, to see a central defending bombing right past you and then hitting the by-line. You stand there and think 'Do I go back with them or not?'

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"But if you do, then you get worried about being caught out on the overload. Seriously, you can try and prepare for it. But it really confusing. It messes with your head a little bit."

The ability to continue positing psychological questions will be crucial for United in the Premier League next season, where many teams spend a small fortune researching the strategies their rivals employ. Better footballers - and this is no slight on those in the Championship - also tend to have sharper brains.

Wilder's decision to tweak aspects of United's blueprint is a nod to this fact. Equally, it also underlines why coaching staff were so keen to complete their majority of their transfer business long before Thursday's deadline. Wilder wants all of his new arrivals to boast the same telepathic understanding of how their colleagues operate as, say, Jack O'Connell and Chris Basham. Otherwise, top-flight sides will exploit the gaps and pick United apart.

Callum Robinson says Sheffield United's system can be impossible to play against: James Wilson/Sportimage

"I've played against it for the past couple of years and seriously, it's tough," Robinson, who could make his competitive debut for United at AFC Bournemouth this weekend, said. "You do get confused by it but now I'm a part of it and playing it, it's brilliant. It takes a lot of work, it obviously doesn't happen by accident but you can see the benefits."