Why Sheffield United won't change system...but what they might look like if they did

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has vowed to leave no stone unturned in the search for solutions to the problems which see his team enter their latest Premier League meeting, against Leicester City at Bramall Lane, at the bottom of the table and without a win this term.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 5:05 pm

Personnel changes, positional adjustments and set play patterns are among the things being considered ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Brendan Rodgers’ side. But a change of system is not among them, with Wilder insisting on numerous occasions there is “no need to take a wrecking ball” to the 3-5-2 system which has become United’s trademark during their climb from League One to the top-flight under his stewardship.

Despite losing several key players to injury in recent weeks, with doubts about Enda Stevens’ availability placing even greater stress on the left flank of a rearguard where centre-halves are expected to charge forward on the overlap, it is easy to understand why Wilder is so reluctant to radically overhaul United’s strategy. As striker David McGoldrick reminded earlier today, they have not been “outclassed” in any of their 10 outings so far, with all but one of the nine defeats they have suffered coming by a single goal. And, with United’s recruitment policy inevitably geared towards perpetuating it, abandoning a formation they have spent years perfecting on the training ground would, coaching staff suspect, weaken their hand still further.

“This is the first down part of the journey we’ve been on,” McGoldrick said, reflecting on last weekend’s defeat by West Bromwich Albion before peering into the future. “So I don’t think we need to take a wrecking ball to it, because if we’d have come back and beaten West Brom 2-1 then nobody would be doubting it.

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Chris Basham and Phil Jagielka (R) are both expected to be in the Sheffield United squad for Sunday's Premier League game against Leicester City: Andrew Yates/Sportimage

“But it comes with success, the doubters, and especially with how well we did last season. People think we should be doing better. They expect more from us and we expect more from ourselves. “We’ve all been around the block and we know what’s in this team.”

There are no natural wingers at Wilder’s disposal, because it would be difficult to persuade any of the necessary calibre to join when opportunities to feature are bound to be limited. Not to mention extravagant too, with United obliged to use the money at their disposal wisely and prudently.

But what if Wilder did take this step? How would United line-up if, say, they switched to 4-4-2? There would inevitably be some high profile casualties, with some of the most influential players at Wilder’s disposal perhaps missing out. There would also be beneficiaries, with some of those on the periphery of the starting eleven at present coming into the side as United required different skill sets.

However, although his hand could eventually be forced if more members of his backline join Jack O’Connell and Stevens on the treatment table, Wilder’s considered opinion is that it makes more sense for United to persevere with the tried, trusted and tested methods which saw them finish ninth last season less than a year after being promoted from the Championship.

David McGoldrick does not believce Sheffield United need to "take a wrecking ball" to their system: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Aaron Ramsdale: Inevitably under scrutiny given United’s inability to keep a clean sheet. Has made the odd mistake but remains well in credit after making some big saves too. Requires better protection from those in front of him.

Enda Stevens: An expansive wing-back at present, the Republic of Ireland international would have to curb some of his attacking instincts if United switched. This could take something away from his game but would start.

John Egan: Combative and physical, Egan is what folk describe these days as an “old fashioned centre-half’. That doesn’t do him justice. But his skill set would make him a shoe-in to feature at the heart of a four man defence.

Phil Jagielka: At 38 years of age, he isn’t as athletic or mobile as he once was. But if United did switch, the former England international’s experience could provide him with more opportunities than the 3-5-2 offers.

Sheffield United's manager Chris Wilder watches play during the English Premier League soccer match between West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield United at The Hawthorns: Lyndsey Parnaby/Pool via AP

George Baldock: Like Stevens, a change of strategy would take plenty away from his game. But after being forced to learn the attacking side after arriving from MK Dons, is clearly defensively strong enough to remain in the eleven.

Ethan Ampadu: Mobile, defensively sound, able to cover ground quickly and with an excellent passing repertoire, the Wales international, on loan from Chelsea, would appear tailor-made to anchor United’s midfield.

John Fleck: Should score more than he does, and a change of system would do little to help him improve his returns in front of goal. But Fleck’s tenacity, engine and comfort on the ball would remain vital in the central area.

Ben Osborn: A midfielder by trade and left footed, he has impressed on his rare outings at wing-back and so could use some of the knowledge he gleaned playing this role to bring some width to United’s play.

Sander Berge: Despite being more suited to a central position, where his physical stature could be a big weapon, the Norwegian has shown in the past that he enjoys drifting out wide to find space, stretch defences and cross.

Rhian Brewster: United’s record signing, the youngster’s pace would be even more vital if United changed their shape. But improving the type of service he receives - Brewster is a ‘first time finisher’ is the most important thing.

Oli McBurnie: Freed from the shackles of being a targetman, McBurnie would be arguably the greatest beneficiary of any change, allowing him to play more of his ‘natural’ game although he is still getting chances. When fit, Lys Mousset would push him hard though.

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