Sheffield United aim to beat ‘possession bullies’ Manchester City
The object of the exercise, Chris Basham explained, is to prove possession is overrated.
Demonstrate, as Manchester City weave intricate patterns across the pitch and hog the ball like a schoolyard bully, that it is possible to win a Premier League fixture by spending long periods chasing shadows.
“We know we’re going to have to do the horrible stuff well,” the Sheffield United centre-half admitted. “Try and make interceptions, keep our shape and then when we’ve got it, make sure we create that opportunity for someone to score. Basically, play the percentages.”
Tomorrow, when Pep Guardiola’s side visit Bramall Lane, both Basham and his manager Chris Wilder concede City will dominate most of the post-match statistics. The Catalan’s team regularly attempt nearly 700 passes per game with the overwhelming majority being completed.
Yet United are convinced, totally and utterly convinced, they can ensure the most important one finds in their favour.
It will require, Basham conceded at the Steelphalt Academy today, the odd slice of good fortune.
If Kevin de Bruyne and company fire, properly fire, they are capable of dismantling the biggest clubs in Europe.
But the 31-year-old also insisted, as he prepared to face perhaps the most expensively assembled squad on Planet Football, that United possess the psychological fortitude required to frustrate the likes of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and of course the brilliant Belgian.
“You’ve got to be so focused in this division,” he said. “The concentration levels you need are something else, because you can’t switch off for a second.
“If you then - ‘bang’ - it’s in the back of your net because of the quality of the people you are facing.
“I’ve always maintained that the difference at this level is that it’s more mentally tiring than it is physically.
“But we’re all honest boys, we always go all in and we always believe that we can do something.”
United very nearly did three weeks ago when they travelled to the Etihad Stadium.
Lys Mousset had a goal controversially disallowed by VAR before an obstruction on John Fleck, by referee Chris Kavanagh, presented Aguero with the opener.
Although de Bruyne eventually sealed City’s victory with an expertly crafted second during the closing stages, Wilder’s charges did enough to earn the hosts’ respect and, ahead of this evening’s return, provide themselves with some encouragement.
“One of the classiest things I’ve come across all season, and there have been a few classy things happen, was from de Bruyne,” Wilder revealed before Basham addressed the media.”I was wandering over to the ref and it was just a couple of words from him that I thought were amazing.
“Maybe he was trying to calm me down but he had the class and humility to say some really nice things and I thought that was brilliant.
“I’m not just saying it because of what he told me, about my lads and our club.
“I just thought for him to say that, in the heat of battle and being a complete midfield player who has got everything, spoke volumes about his class and humility.”
“I think they liked how we’ve come from where we’ve all come from,” Basham, previously of Blackpool, continued.
“A lot us us have come the long way around, we’ve had set-backs at some clubs and then had to bounce back from that.
“They’ll have checked our backgrounds from because of how well we’ve been doing and long may that continue.”
Seventh in the table following last weekend’s draw with Arsenal, United will climb to fifth if they claim what would be their biggest scalp since being promoted last season.
Despite also ending in defeat, Basham insisted United’s recent meeting with runaway leaders Liverpool has helped them devise a strategy to face second-placed City; the reigning champions.
“We can learn from going there, to Anfield, because that was definitely more mental,” he said.
“After we lost that one, we sat down with the gaffer and watched a video. We went over all of the things we probably didn’t want to see again and that made us want to come out fighting.
“You have to see things like that and he (Wilder) isn’t bothered about calling people out.
“He’s not scared to come after you if you’ve done something wrong but everyone takes it on the chin and then wants to put stuff right.”
“The video also showed how hard they (Liverpool) worked,”he added. “It doesn’t matter who they’re playing against. It was a great meeting and it’s something the manager likes to do, just to recap on everything.”
Reflecting upon his recent trips to the North-West, Wilder made no attempt to disguise his admiration for both Guardiola - a three time Champions League winner - and Klopp, who delivered that coveted trophy to Merseyside last term.
But he reminded that respect can only stretch so far.
“We’ve got to look at the problems City have caused better teams than us,” he said. “It’s no good us doing crossing and finishing, because we’re going to have to go into a lot of detail from a defensive point of view.
“That’s because of the amount of ball you know they’ll have, which is usually somewhere around 60 or 70 per cent. We’re not alone in that we’ll probably be dominated in terms of possession.
“So what we’ll be doing is concentrating on where we can get out and cause them some pain ourselves. I’m realistic that it might only be a little bit of pain.
“But we go into every game, every single one, believing that we can take something out of it.
“We try and play the shirts. Not the names on the back of them.”