Could this tactical tweak shake Sheffield United out of their recent malaise?
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What follows is not an attempt to tell a man how to do his job. Merely a suggestion, a debate perhaps, having seen Jokanović’s Sheffield United splutter their way through the last few weeks with two wins from their last seven league games.
There is some comfort there. United are 15th but still only five points off Luton in sixth, albeit with a crowd of clubs between them. They are dominating possession and at least creating chances, if they are guilty of not finishing them off. Jokanović’s teams are notoriously slow starters.
But, considering the options at his disposal, is it time to at least consider a return to the 3-5-2 formation that is ingrained into this squad’s psyche? He was open to that at the start of his reign, but switched during the first international break of the season. In the first game with his 4-2-3-1 shape, Peterborough were hammered 6-2.
It was supposed to be the new dawn, the day United’s promotion charge really began. In reality, United have won four of their 10 games since and made very hard work of three of those – 1-0 v Derby, 2-1 v Stoke and 3-2 v Barnsley – rather than cantering to victory.
Suspicions of a soft underbelly have hardly been dismissed by a spate of late goals conceded – United have let in nine this season, already in the last 15 minutes of games – and Chris Basham’s impressive display in midweek at Nottingham Forest justified calls for him to be included from the start more often.
The issue is that, in a back four, he appears to be the odd man out and resorting to a back three appears to solve a few issues in a stroke. More defensive solidarity, with an extra centre-half, and reduced pressure on the midfield two of Ollie Norwood and John Fleck to protect those behind them.
More offensive freedom for the wing-backs, unshackling Enda Stevens and Rhys Norrington-Davies and Jayden Bogle and George Baldock to get forward and create. A natural No.10 in Morgan Gibbs-White, whose role really wouldn’t change. Get on the ball, make things happen, get Blades fans excited.
And more support up top. It’s a credit to Billy Sharp that, at 35 and after two years of Premier League money in the bank, he is still the Blades’ most prolific goalscorer. But playing up top on his own can look a lonely task at times when United are being pushed back towards the end of games. And a team with six strikers, plus Iliman Ndiaye, playing one up front invariably sees most of them benched or shoehorned into unfamiliar positions, ala Rhian Brewster at Forest.
Each system has its benefits and drawbacks and if Jokanović lands the wingers he craves in January, 4-2-3-1 could well be the shape to transform United’s season. But until that point, could a return to the Blades’ past affect their immediate future?