Sheffield United: 'You've all got the boss wrong' striker insists, as Slavisa Jokanovic's men prepare to face Southampton in the Carabao Cup
Despite his reputation for being obsessed with tactics, Billy Sharp says manager Slavisa Jokanovic also wants Sheffield United’s players to think for themselves during matches rather than waiting for instructions from the touchline.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s Carabao Cup tie against Southampton, the United captain explained how Jokanovic is cultivating an environment behind the scenes where members of Bramall Lane’s first team squad are encouraged to use their own insight and judgement to make subtle strategic adjustments during matches.
It reflects, according to Sharp, the Serb’s belief the ability to think creatively is still one of the most desirable traits a footballer can have in an era where rigid gameplans are becoming the norm.
“Obviously, you have to have a plan and we do a lot of work on that,” Sharp admitted, confirming United spent 48 hours identifying the strengths and weaknesses of Hull City’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation before Saturday’s contest in East Yorkshire. “But you can watch games all you want, get all the analysis nailed down, and then it just feels totally different. In those situations, you have to be able to make quick decisions and that’s something he (Jokanovic) wants us to do. He ultimately is the one who makes the big calls, and that’s as it should be. But he also likes us to think about things as well, because he tells us he trusts in us and what we can do.”
After experimenting with a variety of different approaches at the beginning of the season, as United’s painfully slow progress in the transfer market forced Jokanovic to chop and change shape, the arrival of Morgan Gibbs-White and emergence of Iliman Ndiaye has seen the 53-year-old adopt the same system as City since the international break. That meant last weekend’s meeting at the MKM Stadium hinged on who performed best on the day, with Sharp’s latest strike laying the foundations for a 3-1 win.
“We’re happy to change if we need to,” he continued, using events during last month’s second round success over Derby County to illustrate his point. “In the first half, they were playing bounce passes and getting out, because we didn’t know if it was best to sit off them or not. I had to know when and when not to go chasing the goalkeeper. So the manager asked us to change shape and brought Flecky on, which made it much tougher for them.”
As well as analysing how his former club Southampton like to operate, Sharp has also spent his time since the victory over City fathoming how to best engineer opportunities against a defence which held Manchester City to nil in its last outing.
“I like to ‘feel’ the defender and get a shot off,” Sharp said. “You watch games and sit down with the analysts to highlight things. But you have to be aware of what’s happening around you because that’s how you end up being in the right place at the right time - getting a feel for the game.”