Sheffield United: If ever a coach's style didn't match his stats then that is Slavisa Jokanovic - Alan Biggs

Sheffield United don’t have a defensive-minded manager and yet the facts say otherwise.

By Alan Biggs
Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 2:38 pm

If ever a coach’s style didn’t match his stats then that is Slavisa Jokanovic this season.

If you take out the six-hit of the Peterborough home game, Sheffield United have scored only 15 goals in the other 15 league matches.

This is not only spreading a myth but a source of much frustration with United entrenched in the lower half of the table.

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BARNSLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: Slavisa Jokanovic, Manager of Sheffield United looks on following the Sky Bet Championship match between Barnsley and Sheffield United at Oakwell Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Barnsley, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

It conflicts with a natural fearlessness and spirit of adventure about Jokanovic that must make him hell-bent on recruitment and changes.

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So many managers pay mere lip service to “attacking football.” They know - and let’s be honest, they are right - their longevity depends almost entirely on results.

Scruffy 1-0 wins can be spun as the virtue of learning to “win ugly.” Better that than, say, a heart-stopping 3-2 victory where the opposition turn it into a thriller by coming from behind.

Speaking of which, the United manager’s main gripe about winning by exactly that perilous margin at Oakwell recently was not conceding two late goals to Barnsley but failing to turn a 3-0 lead into something unassailable.

This struck me as highly unusual and also extremely refreshing.

I’d have expected, from most others, to have heard a moan about the team’s “game management” or lack of it.

Game management. Two seemingly innocuous words that have infiltrated the game and which cover a multitude of sins.

The one word, “gamesmanship”, covers it more effectively - but even that it is a euphemism when it comes to blatant time wasting and the feigning of injury to fragment the play. In another word, cheating.

Playing keep-ball and shielding it around the corner flags is a more acceptable form. But if you tie it all up in a bundle, none of it does credit to the “beautiful game.”

Except that it’s claimed as a virtue by the winners and an evil by the losers.

To his credit, Jokanovic doesn’t seem to do this double-speak. The Serb’s English may be broken but his values are wholesome.

Maybe it goes deeper still. His belief is simply that you win football matches by attacking, another lie to his Blades record.Especially given the experience he inherited.

Players have spoken about adjusting to methods that have differed from those of Jokanovic’s predecessor but being brave is a clear similarity.

Chris Wilder would often make an attacking second half substitution when United were leading, sometimes even when they were down to ten men. He would invariably take the risk for the reward.

Maybe it’s not quite so enhanced with Jokanovic in that, with his side a man down and 1-1 with Millwall recently, he felt going down to a late goal owed to too much ambition. Another late goal pegged United to a point at Nottingham Forest on Tuesday.

But, all things being equal, he wants his team to ram home their superiority with further goals when on top rather than flirt with “game managing” the closing stages.

The biggest clue to his philosophy was posted long before he took charge here - when his Fulham side won 5-4 at the Lane in November, 2017, in as exciting a game as I’ve ever witnessed.

Jokanovic’s oft-stated incredulity about how anyone can be fearful about playing a game of football strikes the same chord, albeit smacking of being partly a psychological ploy.

That’s because he recognises the reality of fear being ingrained in the game and of how it stifles.

Perhaps the 6-2 win of the Peterborough visit in September best encapsulates what he’s trying to achieve. Eventually.