Sheffield United: What England's rugby stars have taught Chris Wilder
Earlier this morning, before he picked-up his kit bag and drove to Bramall Lane, Chris Wilder spent a moment watching England face South Africa in the rugby union World Cup final.
The Sheffield United manager does not profess to be an expert of the 15 man code. Teaching players to win tackles, headers and races is how he earns a living, rather than rucks, scrums and mauls.
But as United attempt to establish themselves as a Premier League force, Wilder's search for new ideas capable of turbo-charging their early season progress led him to the International Stadium, Yokohama, where Eddie Jones' men were battling to become the kings of their sport.
Speaking before today's game against Burnley, Wilder explained how listening to Jones talk about the importance of substitutes - or "finishers" as the Australian prefers to call them - had piqued his interest. It proved the catalyst for a discussion which not only revealed how his methods have evolved since first stepping into the technical area but, perhaps most intriguingly, the level of planning United's coaching staff undertake before deciding who will not only start the visit of Sean Dyche's side, but also the composition of their bench.
"Definitely, we put a lot in," Wilder said. "It's difficult for players who can't get into the 18 and sometimes they probably think why is he on the bench. But we think about different scenarios; if we're up in the game, down in the game or have to change shape because of what the opposition might do. It isn't Liverpool of the Eighties, where it's the same eleven all the way through. The game has changed and evolved, physically and tactically. The question I always ask myself before we go out is 'have I picked the right team?' If you see me lean over to Knilly about five minutes in, I'll be saying 'I haven't picked the right team Al.' But you have to get on with it."
In a message torn straight from Jones' playbook, Wilder acknowledged "the eleven who are out there from the beginning aren't always the right ones to see it out." But he did confirm that the majority of his work towards the end of this week has focused on ensuring United impose themselves on Burnley straight from kick-off. Not, as happened during last Saturday's draw with West Ham, fall behind before mounting a successful rearguard action. It is a strategy which has proved remarkably successful in recent months, with eighth placed United the highest of the three newly promoted clubs. But by his own admission, Wilder accepted it also requires him to maintain open lines of communication with those he leaves out.
"My door is always open," he said. "I used to, as a young manager, spend a huge amount of time on a Thursday and a Friday, going around the lads who weren't in. But I was exhausted. So now I say for them to come and see me Monday. If we've won, I'm safe. If we haven't, I just say I picked the wrong team. But it's about the group. Last season, for every Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick, there was a Martin Cranie and a Marvin Johnson. Their contributions were huge."
“Look at Vincent Kompany last season as well,” Wilder added. “This iconic player for Manchester City who wasn’t involved much but when he was, at the end, his contribution ensured they became champions. If it’s good enough for him, then it’s good enough for everyone else, isn't it.”
United will stretch their unbeaten run to four matches if they avoid defeat against Burnley, having beaten Arsenal at home before frustrating Manuel Pellegrini's men in east London seven days ago. Despite losing heavily to Chelsea last time out, Wilder has warned Dyche's charges will prove "as tough as anyone we'll face" later this afternoon. Hence United's desire to select not only the right eleven, but also the most suitable replacements.
"Some people are better at it, coming on, than others," Wilder said, suggesting there is an art to being an effective substitute. "It is a skill. They have to pick the pace of the game up. They have to watch in the dug-out, they are involved in all the video analysis we do as well. On a Friday, the focus is on the players who will start. Usually, they pick the pace of the game up pretty well."
After scoring in each of his last two outings, centre-forward Lys Mousset could partner David McGoldrick in attack against Burnley, although Sharp and Oli McBurnie will be hoping for recalls. Callum Robinson featured alongside McGoldrick at West Ham, before being withdrawn early in the second period. It is unclear if the Republic of Ireland international was suffering from an injury.
Reserving the right to make changes on a tactical basis, Wilder said: "I do believe they understand, they have a part to play. If you are chasing the game or coming off the bench, or if you want to be a little bit more stable and solid. They understand that now, as professional footballers. They all want to start and get on the pitch. But if you look at our record, I think it's very rare we keep the same eleven on the pitch."