Sheffield United: 'Don't talk big or blame others. Get beat by all means but just do your jobs'
He didn’t say so explicitly but Slavisa Jokanovic still provided enough clues and posed the necessary questions afterwards to reveal where the blame for this capitulation lies.
“I need to support my players, yes, but they also need to know and show responsibility,” the Sheffield United manager said, laying a trail of breadcrumbs downstairs to the away dressing room where his squad was preparing to slope out of Ewood Park. “Football isn’t complicated, like we made it out there.”
After producing arguably their most insipid display of the season en route to a 3-1 defeat which sees them enter the international break 18th in the Championship, questions will inevitably be asked about the Jokanovic project and his suitability for the job. The former Yugoslavia and Chelsea midfielder can’t distance himself entirely from the situation. Nor, to his credit, did he attempt to during a frank post-match inquest inside Blackburn Rovers’ ‘media theatre’ - located deep within the bowels of the Jack Walker Stand.
But tactics and systems weren’t behind yesterday’s pathetic surrender against opponents whose starting eleven contained nine outfield players aged 24 or under. Courage, or rather a lack of it, was.
Within the framework Jokanovic gives them, United’s players are encouraged to think for themselves; use the experience and desire they keep telling us they possess to fathom their way through games. But when Reda Khadra, making only the ninth senior appearance of his career, dragged Rovers level following Rhian Brewster’s opener, they showed no determination whatsoever to change the course of the game. If it was there, it certainly wasn’t visible as they kept making decisions so naive they would have shamed the under-10’s paraded around the pitch at half-time.
Even if Thomas Tuchel and Pep Guardiola pooled their resources, they would struggle to get a tune out of a squad either unable or unwilling to influence its own destiny but seemingly happy to support the theory it is past its sell-by date.
“We lost intensity the moment they scored,” continued Jokanovic, identifying a trend which predates his appointment. “I enjoyed nothing in the game. It was dirty for us."
There is stasis off the pitch at United, whose activity during the summer transfer window was inadequate. And there is paralysis on it, particularly at the back where United’s work is shambolic. Despite hiring one of the most capable and talented coaches outside of the top-flight, United are a club devoid of conviction and strategic vision.
With Rovers being hammered 7-0 by Fulham 72 hours earlier, Brewster’s superb strike at the beginning of the game should have been the catalyst for an emphatic victory. Instead it marked the start of a woeful display which suggested many of those wearing United shirts believe reputations alone are enough to win matches. They aren’t. Truly great teams, ones which enjoy more than brief periods of success, keep on building them and continue evolving.
Promotion was the aim at the beginning of the campaign. But unless they show the humility to confront their own failings rather than point accusing fingers elsewhere, United risk leaving the division through the back door, not the front.
Get beat by all means. But not in this fashion, as Ben Brereton Diaz and Ian Poveda also scored wholly preventable goals. Do the basics. Do your jobs.