Sheffield United: Slavisa Jokanovic delivers a message about tactics and team shape
When the team sheet was handed in to the match officials and it became clear Sheffield United had changed shape, abandoning the formation which had become their motif under Chris Wilder for something a little more intricate, many people wondered if Slavisa Jokanovic had just provided a glimpse into the future with his choice of tactics against Europa Point.
Lining-up in a 3-4-2-1 rather than 3-5-2 - a decision the Serb later explained had been taken because of surfeit of centre-forwards at his disposal - supporters, journalists and amateur match analysts alike immediately began researching the history of the system and predicting how it might fare in the Championship next term.
Two hours after the final whistle, when United’s coaching staff and squad had returned to their hotel on the outskirts of Estepona where they have established a warm weather training camp, Jokanovic agreed to discuss yesterday’s game with journalists who have been unable to make the trip.
The first question, inevitably, focused on his choice of shape. And the former Yugoslavia international’s answer, accompanied by a long hard stare and wave of the hand, confirmed it would be foolish to read too much into the strategy he employed during United’s friendly with the Gibraltarians - his first since becoming the club’s new manager.
“Are you obsessed about shape? Don’t be, really, because that’s all it is,” Jokanovic replied. “I don’t know if people are obsessed with shape but all I am doing is trying to manage my team one way for 45 minutes and then the same with some changes.
“I have six strikers here with me. So I try and play three in each half.
“I explained to them that it is my intention to try and see what is best for us and what the best shape for the group as a whole is.
“It’s very early at the moment. We have only had nine days working together. So it is far too early to be making decisions or plans about things like that.”
With captain Billy Sharp, Oli McBurnie and Oliver Burke all making progress in their respective battles for fitness after suffering injuries last term, United are expected to trim their attacking options before the end of the transfer window. Some players could be sold while others, particularly those at the beginning of their professional careers, could be allowed to continue their development on loan.
“We have two more (friendly) games and we will try something different probably in the next one,” said Jokanovic, whose side face Doncaster Rovers and Norwich City before next month’s return to competitive action. “We might play with one more in defence and one less in attack. Or we might change the midfield. We will see.
“You need to have an open mind in football. We also know this team has played a certain way for a very long time. So we might also go back to that, if that’s what we think is best.
"If going back to that is best, then that is what we will do. But I repeat, you always need to be ready to do different things and have an open mind.”