Sheffield United: Why is Chris Wilder’s team causing a stir in Liverpool?

Mark Duffy in action for Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Mark Duffy in action for Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Jurgen Klopp's team and its bid for a first Premier League title is the talk of pubs and clubs across Liverpool, as one half of the city dreams and Evertonians dread the thought of the trophy being raised aloft inside Anfield.

But when the conversation turns to other subjects, which he admits is a rare occurence, Mark Duffy says Sheffield United and their push for top-flight football frequently crops up.

"A lot of my family are Reds," he smiles. "I've got a few mates who are Blues. 
"But they all support Sheffield United now. Not just because of me, it's also down the style of football we play. They all reckon we'd be a good addition to the competition. Well, apart from the Everton fans because they know they'd probably struggle."

Despite betraying where his allegiances lie with that final comment, the efforts of Klopp and his players to be crowned kings of England is not the most pressing concern in Duffy's household. Instead, as United prepare for Friday's visit to Aston Villa, the battle for promotion from the Championship dominates the midfielder's thoughts. 

"Of course you dream about going to places like Anfield," Duffy admits, as he considers a game which could see United climb from third to first in the table. "I don't think there's anything wrong with saying that. After all, it's what we're all here for, that's what we all want. That's why we've come into the business."

Duffy, aged 33, is a pivotal member of a team which has risen towards the top of the division employing a pioneering brand of attacking football. Wilder's system, which demands Jack O'Connell and fellow centre-half Chris Basham spend as much time on the edge of the opposition's penalty area as they do their own, has brought the best out of players who, Duffy included, have previously flattered to deceive elsewhere.

"Before coming here, I'd have probably moaned if I'd seen one of the lads at the back come charging past me," he laughs. "I'd have been screaming 'get back into position' but it's great to play in a team with such freedom. It's great to be a part of."

"The thing is, they can do it because of the quality they've got," Duffy continues. "Jack whips some great crosses in, really dangerous ones, and Bash dances his way through with the snake-hips of his. You can tell he's a pretty good on the dance floor. 'Bash, the Geordie Dancer' is what we all call him. Joking aside, everything suits and that's down to the recruitment and the work the staff have done."

Returning to Birmingham, where Duffy spent two disappointing seasons with Villa's arch-rivals City, allows him to expand upon the point.

"Sometimes, it's just the right club for you," he explains. "Take when I was there for example. I like to find little pockets of space and work in those, it's what I think is a strong point of my game. There, the manager kept telling me that wasn't my job and, fair enough, that's not how it worked there. He wanted me to stay out wide and make sure their full-backs didn't get forward.

"I didn't really enjoy it in the end. Here, though, I look forward to training every day."

In order for Duffy to realise his Premier League ambitions, United must successfully negotiate their way through a 16 match sequence which also pits them against the likes of Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion, Leeds and neighbours Sheffield Wednesday.

Despite entering the fixture in ninth, Villa can call upon players of impressive pedigree including Albert Adomah, Jonathan Kodjia and Tammy Abraham.

"It's probably been a bit difficult for them," Duffy concedes, "Because the old manager will have brought players in the the new manager will have his own ideas too. But they've got real talent there and they can easily go on a run."

"It's no fluke we are where we are either," he adds. "People know how we play and that we like to overload everywhere but it's difficult to stop when it's done well."