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Should more United youngsters follow Sam Graham to the Central Coast?

Academy players from England’s top sides are conventionally sent out on-loan down the English pyramid system, obtaining first-team football at a club in a lower division than their parent club. However, modern football is adapting with more and more young English talents preferring to be sent abroad in a bid for regular football, instead of rocketing down to a league below.

Sheffield United are a club following this trend, currently having three academy prospects out on-loan outside of Britain which leaves the question, is it more effective sending academy players out on-loan abroad?

Sam Graham and Stephen Mallon, both joined the A-League outfit Central Coast Mariners in January and have both been brought directly into the club’s first-team plans. Whilst, Jordan Doherty joined Tampa Bay Rowdies, who are coached by former Blades defender Neil Collins.

Focusing on Graham’s career so far, having developed in United’s Shirecliffe academy since the age of 10, the 18-year-old defender had no knowledge of football outside of Sheffield. Therefore, to give the youngster some valuable first-team experience, Chris Wilder sent him out on-loan to League Two club Oldham Athletic at the start of this current campaign. However failing to impress then manager Frankie Bunn, Graham only managed a handful of league appearances which led to him returning to Bramall Lane early January.

A-League Rd 20 - Central Coast v Brisbane : News Photo

Sam Graham celebrates as the Central Coast Mariners battle back against Brisbane Roar FC

Since then, the young centre-half joined the Australian side, and has managed to print his name on the starting line-up of every league fixture since his arrival. But, not only is Graham receiving consistent first-team football, he is also getting the leisure of experiencing a different countries lifestyle and culture, in conjunction with improving his footballing ability.

In an exclusive interview with Mariners coach Andy Thomson, when asked how Graham and Mallon had fitted into the group, he said: “The boys adapted to the Australian game almost instantly and are always putting in 100% commitment during training.”

“We know their situation, and their desire to play football matches, and so far they’re giving us no reason to sit them out. We obviously don’t have the financial power of some of the other clubs in our league but having a partnership with a big club like Sheffield United is a great asset, and you’ve got to thank Monty for that. I can only see the relationship between the two clubs growing stronger in the coming years.”

Soccer - Hyundai A-League - Central Coast Mariners vs. Queensland Roar : News Photo

The Central Coast Stadium, formerly Bluetongue Stadium

Nonetheless, the Blades aren’t the first British team to capture rewards of having a foreign affiliate, Chelsea have sent several wonderkids over to Vitesse in the Netherlands to attain first-team football. Mason Mount, and Lewis Baker are two examples, who spent a season in Holland, before making their careers back in England, as both players are now enjoying successful spells at Derby and Reading respectively.

On a smaller scale, West-Midlands outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers have recently formed an affiliation with Spanish club FC Jumilla. The Wanderers currently have five of their academy prospects out on-loan there, with the hope these youngsters can gain experience to be able to challenge for a first-team spot back in England.

Former St Mirren coach Thomson also spoke about his beliefs on why younger English talent should take the venture away from England and challenge themselves in an unfamiliar environment.

“I do think more young British players should challenge themselves and move away from Britain if they’re not getting enough first-team chances. Putting yourself out of your comfort zone and trying to adapt to other countries rules and style of play will only help you develop, as I’ve learnt during my time coaching outside of Britain,” Thomson said.

“Learning and getting advise from a number of different coaches can only benefit young players, and especially if the foreign clubs where you are loaned have a similar philosophy like Sheffield United and us, it can only benefit a player when they return back home.”

Categorically, it may start to become a regular occurrence for top-flight British clubs to send their talented academy prospects on-loan to foreign countries, instead of keeping them in a domestic league. Displaying, that it could be more effective for player development, if players are able to gain first-team experiences outside of the English system.

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PREVIEW: Blades travel to the Hawthorns for six-point clash

Sheffield United are able to go four points clear of their West-Midlands based promotion rivals, with a victory at the historic Hawthorns.

Chris Wilder’s team head into this fixture, following their largest win of the campaign. Annihilating relegation-bound Reading 4-0, with new-signing Gary Madine opening his Blades account with a brace in front of the United faithful.

On the other hand, West Brom’s squad have had to prepare for this marquee match with significantly less rest, as they travelled to QPR midweek. Resting key midfielders Gareth Barry, and Rakeem Harper, Darren Moore’s side were still able to snatch the three points in the 94th winner through Jake Livermore.

Sheffield United v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship : News Photo

Kieran Gibbs celebrates scoring against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane, December 2018

Additionally, starlet Dwight Gayle is also set to return for the televised fixture, having served a two-match ban after being punished by the Football Association for successful deception of a match official. The 28-year-old is likely to replace Jefferson Montero in the starting 11, who scored his first Baggies goal at Loftus Road.

For the Blades, Chris Basham is available again following his suspension. The versatile defender has served a two-match for 10 yellow cards, and could be recalled to the starting lineup on Saturday.

Moreover, George Baldock and Jack O’Connell have both been undergoing treatment for calf and hamstring injuries respectively, with Wilder being very hopeful that the pair can be included in the match day squad. Dynamic goal scoring duo Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick could also be brought back into the team after the duo, who have scored a combined 33 league goals, were rested against Reading.

Inevitably, Moore and Wilder mutually will be in desperate need for a fully-fit squad going into this six-point clash, as boths team will be hoping they can promote their bid for an automatic promotion spot, with a declared victory.

Match Stats:

West Brom are looking to complete a league double over the South-Yorkshire based side for the first time since the 1998/99 campaign.

The Blades haven’t beaten West Brom at the Hawthorns since October 2003, when they won 2-0 with goals from Michael Tonge and Ashley Ward.

The Baggies have kept fewer home clean sheets than any other Championship club this season, only maintain two.

United skipper Billy Sharp has scored with all eight of his headed shots on target this season, making him the most prolific aerial threat in the division.

Jay Rodriguez has been involved in 14 goals in 16 league games at the Hawthorns, having scored 10 goals, and providing four assists.

Wilder’s men have lost only one of their last 11 league fixtures, winning seven, and drawing three.

 

 

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Chengdu Blades: The Failed Experiment

Many football fans will remember the notoriously introduced ‘Silver goal’ rule at the European Championships in 2000, as well as the ’35-yard Shootout’ which was predominately used in the United States. However, in Sheffield these two failed footballing experiments aren’t even included in the conversation, compared to the time Sheffield United Football Club invested in Chinese outfit Chengdu Tiancheng. 

In January 2006, Chengdu Tiancheng became the first foreign-owned Chinese club ever, with Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe investing into the club which at the time was only 10 years old.

The club was then renamed to ‘Chengdu Blades’ to reflect a clear partnership with the South Yorkshire based club. With, the Chengdu Sports Centre also becoming the home to the familiar red and white stripes and crossed swords logo.

Sheffield United Completes Takeover Of China's Chengdu Five Bulls Club : News Photo

Kevin McCabe completes takeover of China’s Chengdu Club

McCabe originally believed this investment would secure rewards in the future, due to the rise of Chinese culture in the city of Sheffield, and the huge number of Chinese students wishing to study in the city. He began to build an audience for the Chinese outfit immediately, welcoming the Chengdu Blades for a talk at the University of Sheffield, and a parade around the city. In conjunction, the club store stocked endless amounts of the Chinese clubs’ shirts and merchandise which proved surprisingly popular.

In addition, the initial idea of the partnership was to extend the Sheffield United brand following their promotion to the English Premier League, as well as attempting to widen the club’s scouting system to Asia. McCabe in the long-haul wanted to the Chinese club to find players, which could be brought to the UK, and coached in the Sheffield Academy leading to an eventual first team call-up.

Chengdu Blades v Chelsea - Pre Season Friendly : News Photo

 

Legends of Chinese football, and former Sheffield United talents; Sun Jihai, and Li Tie were both transferred to play for the Sichuan side, who were also furnished with former Derby and Middlesbrough midfielder, Don O’Riordan as their Director of Football.

In an exclusive interview, O’Riordan talked about his relationship with Chairman McCabe and what attracted him to China, by stating: “McCabe is a great businessman, with a great long-term plan to connect Sheffield United all over the globe. I thought the Chengdu branch was a fantastic opportunity for myself, and a great way of expanding what was already a fantastic British football club.”

During O’Riordan’s time in China, the Blades were very successful, gaining promotion back to the Chinese Super League just two seasons after the buyout from McCabe. Drawing their concluding fixture of the campaign 0-0 against third placed Jiangsu Shuntian to ensure a promotion party.

Chengdu Blades v Chelsea - Pre Season Friendly : News Photo

Chelsea FC v Chengdu Blades – Pre-season friendly

A further three years of success in the CSL, saw them finish as high as seventh in the league. To add to this, 15 trainees from the Chinese outfit went on to play for the first team, or join the UK sides’ academy, showing a favourable outcome from increasing the club’s scouting network.

Unfortunately, disaster struck the Chinese Blades, as the club was relegated to the Chinese League One in 2009, for allegations of match-fixing in the lower divisions a few seasons prior which was proven to be correct. Chengdu’s President Xu Hongtao had previously bribed Qingboa’s manager Liu Hongwei 300 thousand yuan, and a fake invoice of 200 thousand yuan, for a one-month rental of the club’s training centre. Qingboa in fixture against Chengdu strangely fielded a second-string team, which led to them losing 2-0 to the Blades, which was never investigated until years later. When several clubs reported Hongtao for his corruption and constant attempt at commercial bribery.

The corruption and subsequent relegation were a deal-breaker for McCabe and Sheffield United, as the now Galway United Ladies manager O’Riordan explained: “From what i’m aware, the Club wasn’t generating that much profit for United, and with the club’s struggles in the Championship that same year, McCabe was already prepared to drop his investment.”

“I’m not sure whether the attitude surrounding Chinese football has changed, but certainly from my time there, the direction of the Chinese League was heading in the wrong way. There was an evident barrier between me, the players, and the those above me, if the Chinese owners were to listen to us foreigners and use our knowledge and experience of the game, i’m sure Chinese football would have improved domestically and internationally a lot sooner.”

Chengdu Blades v Chelsea - Pre Season Friendly : News Photo

Additionally, when asked what he thought specifically went wrong with the Chengdu franchise, he responded: “Me and McCabe had a great relationship, and despite my lack of experience coaching, he knew I had a good knowledge of the business side of football.”

“The affiliation with Sheffield United was never the issue, if anything that only gave them more power over the rest of the division. There’s a serious issue with how clubs over in China are ran, and I think it’s still there today. Money will never be an issue for most of China’s top sides, but a lot of those club’s need to strategize how to use their money efficiently.”

Conclusively, following the loss of investment from the Sheffield club, Chengdu experienced some financial difficulties and struggled to maintain any sort of competitive form. This resulted in the club dissolving in 2015, due to insufficient funding and a lack of interest for further investment as a result of their history of corruption, proving how Kevin McCabe’s investment into Chinese football may be one of the worst failed experiments in the history of the game.

 

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Madine opens his account, as United stick four past Reading

Opting to start the game without top goal scorers Billy Sharp, and David McGoldrick, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder was ecstatic that his selection gamble paid off after they hammered Reading to temporarily go second in the table. 

Wing-back Kieron Freeman opened the scoring just after 38 seconds, following a six-week absence from the first team, which was the beginning of a ruthless performance from the Blades.

United soon made it two when on-loan striker Gary Madine scored his first goal for the club, leathering the ball into the top-left corner, after some outstanding pressing work from John Fleck who forced an error from Reading’s backline.

Madine added to his tally late in the first half, latching onto a perfect first-time cross from Marvin Johnson. His shot was unstoppable as it rippled into the back of Emiliano Martinez’s goal, giving Wilder’s side an impressive 3-0 lead.

Additionally, Martinez was left stranded in the centre of his goal for United’s fourth, as a long-range effort from Fleck took a deflection off Reading defender Matt Miazga en route to goal, putting an end to the one-sided encounter.

When asked about his team’s impressive performance, and the reasoning behind his team-selection changes, Wilder responded: “The easy call was to keep the same team. I feared a slow game and a tired game, it was important we had an energetic performance. I wanted us to play a little more forward, Gary Madine and Scott Hogan allowed us to do that.”

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Moving forward, during his time at Bramall Lane Wilder has be known for his adopted progressive attacking style, and possession-based tactics. However, this game painted a totally different picture compared to a typical Sheffield United performance.

Whilst, the Blades commonly exit fixtures with a dominant possession percentage, especially on home soil, on Saturday Reading enjoyed a much more time on the ball than the hosts. Predominantly focusing on the Royal’s weakness in midfield, Wilder set out his side to constantly press the opposition forcing an interception of play, which would then be followed by a quick, and direct counter-attack through either Johnson, Fleck, or Mark Duffy.

This is also evident through the more laid-back approach from midfield maestro Oliver Norwood. The Northern Ireland international would usually be used to sit deep, controlling the tempo of the game, alongside creating time and space for his teammates to slowly push the ball forward into the opposition’s half. Subsequently, Norwood only made 50 successful passes from his usual 70 passes per game on average, proving how he was told to focus more on his defensive duties, and wait to pounce on an error in midfield.

Undoubtedly, Madine’s magnificent performance in front of goal, providing two goals and one assist, cannot be ignored. However, his performance shouldn’t overshadow how much of an impact Scottish midfielder Fleck had on the game.

fleck-5c-20vs-5_36555713.pngIntercepting the ball more than any other United player, alongside attempting the second-highest amount of tackles. Fleck’s engine-like work-rate was a pivotal part as to why the Blades so easily dominated the play. Playing a typical box-to-box central midfielder, Fleck didn’t tire for the entirety of the game, as well as covering more ground than any other player for either side.

Seemingly the best player on the pitch, defensively and moving the ball forward, Fleck undeniably will have to continue putting in man of the match performances like against Reading. As, Wilder must now prepare his side for an automatic promotion six-pointer against Midlands club West Bromwich Albion next weekend.

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PREVIEW: Blades look to bounce back following six-goal thriller

High-flying pair Sheffield United and Middlesborough meet at Bramall Lane tonight, with Tony Pulis’ team able to narrow the gap to only one point if they are capable to dethrone the South-Yorkshire based side.

United squandered their chance to temporarily go top of the Championship table last friday, throwing away an emphatic three-goal lead in the final eight minutes at Villa Park. Captain Billy Sharp had hit a vintage fox in the box style hat-trick against Aston Villa, for the hosts only to leave it late with a heartbreaking end in the tail for Blades fans alike.

Blades boss Chris Wilder was bewildered post-match having witnessed his trustworthy number one Dean Henderson make two blundering errors late in the fixture. As well as, the consistent Jack O’Connell miss kicking the ball to the feet of John McGinn who delivered it into Andre Green, who inevitably stole a point for the Villains.

On the other hand, Boro seemed destined to bounce back with a victory against promotion-rivals Leeds United on Saturday, following their collapse defeat in the hands of Newport County in the FA Cup. Unfortunately, despite Lewis Wing opening the scoring for Boro early in the second half, the Teesiders only had themselves to blame as they we’re unable to hold out Kalvin Phillips who rifled a stoppage-time equaliser past Darren Randolph’s sticks.

Intimidating defender Aden Flint will be rueing his missed chances, who really should have put the hosts in front on two different occasions. But by sitting deep, and inviting pressure onto their defensive-line, Leeds eventually broke their resistance, which may be the case again at Bramall Lane if Pulis has the same intention to drop deep instead of attempting to combat a high-pressure system.

Additionally, Sheffield United may have a cause of concern having only won two of their last 10 meetings with the Teeside club, however both of those victories have come in encounters at Bramall Lane.

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Chris Wilder’s outfit have shown many fantastic performances against the Championship’s lesser powers, but Friday’s missed opportunity at Villa Park was another instance of the Blades dropping points opposite to the division’s elite. The hosts have won just four of their fixtures against top-half sides, with Norwich being the only team in the top-six that United have been able to snatch a point from; leaving an distinct issue.

Similarly, the Teessiders have failed to maintain a consistent run of form, with them only securing back-to-back league victories on one occasion since August. However, this hasn’t sanctioned them out of the automatic promotion race, due to their officency against top-six sides, where they have only faced defeat once.

The visitors have only been beaten twice on away soil this campaign, also coming away from West Brom, and Bristol City, two sides who currently occupy top-six positions, with maximum points. This impressive away form may put them slight favourites at Bramall Lane, as United have failed to win away at any of the top-half outfits.

Subsequently, the Blades are without versatile centre-half Chris Basham due to his suspension from accumulation of 10 yellow cards. On-loan Marvin Johnson is also unavailable due to terms in his contract with parent club Boro. Although, Scott Hogan may obtain his first United appearance due to the same terms ruling him out of the Aston Villa fixture.

Differently, Pulis will have to assess forward Britt Assombalonga, after he passed a fitness test before the Leeds game. Midfielders Mo Besic and Adam Clayton may also return to the starting 11 after both facing lengthy spells on the bench.

Match facts:

Sheffield United’s 2-1 victory over Boro last term, is their only victory in the two-clubs previous five meetings, with Boro winning the other four.

However, Boro have won just once in their last nine fixtures when travelling to Bramall Lane, in all competitions.

The South-Yorkshire side are unbeaten in the last 12 home league fixtures when playing on a Wednesday evening, with the last falling in 1993 losing 1-0 to Norwich City.

Since Chris Wilder has taken over at Bramall Lane, they have won 70% of their home league fixtures when Skipper Sharp has started (35/50) compared to just 27% when he hasn’t (3/11).

 

 

 

 

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EXCLUSIVE: Sheffield United release annual accounts which show £10 million loss

Sheffield United’s financial reports from the 2017/18 season reveal that the club lost approximately £200,000 per week during the period between July 2017 and June 2018.

Detailed in a remarkable twitter thread by sporting finance expert Kieran Maguire, better known for his in-demand twitter account named ‘price of football’ the study shows how Chris Wilder’s side lost £10 million over the football campaign. This financial loss was partly offset by the £8.4 of profits put back into the club from player sales, however the big-money sale of Welsh star David Brooks to Bournemouth didn’t fall under this accounting period.

Additionally, the accounts further stated that the club’s wage bill rose 90 per cent to £19 million, from the club’s League One winning squad. Suggesting that for every £100 of income United generated, £97 was spent on wages.

Sharpening over income alone, United fell lower mid-table with £20. In comparison, Aston Villa topped the Championship table on income bringing in a reported £74 million, although United’s wage bill was also diminished by Villa, who spent an extortionate £61.5 million. On the other hand, Villa’s first-hand rivals Birmingham City, last term spent almost double their yearly income of £18.8 million on wages alone which reached £38 million for the year.

Moreover, with the top three clubs for overall income all still being in the process of receiving their three-year installed parachute payments. This shows that with a lack of parachute payments how much of an outstanding job Chris Wilder and his directors are doing at maintaining the club’s finances, and on a relatively tight budget compared to their top-six peers, United’s board must be applauded.

Despite lacking the financial power of the likes of Villa, and Norwich City, the red-and-white Sheffield club still have the same intentions as their competitors, as they set their goal as returning to the Premier League.

Therefore, in a club statement after the reports were released, a Sheffield United board representative said: “The ultimate goal will always be to reach the top flight in english football.”

“To this end the board has made significant acquisitions in the summer 2018 transfer market registering five permanent signings along with five temporary signings.”

“The league is highly polarised in terms of revenues with several big teams receiving significant parachute payments following relegation from the Premier League.”

“Underpinning our goal of promotion to the Premier League is the adoption of a self-sustaining business model. The board seek to drive a culture of commercial awareness that encompasses continuous improvement and efficiency savings.”

Conclusively, in retrospect an annual loss of £10 million, considering the debt was paid only months later through the sale of David Brooks, Sheffield United have proved to be one of the better sustained club’s in the Championship.

 

 

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PREVIEW: Sharp goes head-to-head with Abraham

Sheffield United travel to Villa Park to take on Dean Smith’s out of form Aston Villa, in a bid to knock Leeds United, and Norwich City off the top of the Championship table. 

With Aston Villa’s playoff dreams slowly fading away, having only won one of their last six fixtures. Chris Wilder’s team have an opportunity to take the Championship’s top spot with a win at Villa Park.

The Blades ride into this fixture in great form, facing defeat on one occasion in their last eight league appearances. Sitting in third, only three points behind Leeds, and Norwich, whilst Smith’s Villa start the fixture in ninth, 11 points behind United.

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Sheffield United will be without Villa loanee Scott Hogan, with the striker ineligible under his terms of the loan deal. Apart from Hogan, United’s squad is in great physical shape, giving Wilder some big selection calls to make.

On the other hand, midfielder Jack Grealish is still out with a shin injury, but is closing in on his return to first team football, following two months out-of-action. Axel Tuanzebe, Henri Lansbury, and Orjan Nyland are all out, with James Chester, and Andre Green both being assessed ahead of the game.

Defender Tyrone Mings is also available for the visit of Sheffield United, as he faces no retrospective ban from the incident which occurred with Nelson Oliveira in their goal-less draw with Reading.

When asked about Sheffield United’s squad, Villa manager Smith, responded: “I know a few of their players, I sold him a few centre-halves in Jack O’Connell, and John Egan, so i know them well and i’m not surprised to see them where they are.”

Additionally, it is evident that the main talking point going into this game is, which of the Championship’s top talismans will come out on top, in the battle between Billy Sharp and Tammy Abraham for the Championship’s golden boot?

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Statistically, Sharp and Abraham are barely separable. Both scoring an outstanding 19 league goals in 24 league starts. The only attributes splitting the two forwards, is Sharp’s clinical nature in front of goal, as 50% of his shots end up in the back of the net, compared to Abraham’s 30.3%.

Although, the Chelsea loanee dominates Sharp on aerial duels won per 90 minutes, proving his height and aerial awareness is much more impressive than the Blades’ skipper.

Match facts

Sheffield United have scored five goals in their last three away games, whilst Villa haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last six home league ties.

Billy Sharp has scored six out of his last 10 shots in the league for Sheffield United.

In Tammy Abraham’s last seven home appearances, he has managed 12 league goals for Villa.

Irish forward David McGoldrick has been involved in seven goals in his last six Championship starts (5 goals, 2 assists).

 

 

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Sharp shines again, as United lace pressure on the top two

Sheffield United boosted their automatic promotion hopes with an effortless win over relegation-threatened Bolton Wanderers. 

Chris Wilder’s side as predicted dominated the first half, and we’re unlucky not to take a first half lead. Scottish midfielder John Fleck was denied in the 41st minute, as Bolton’s Gary O’Neil managed to get a last-ditch touch on the ball to send it for a corner.

However, David McGoldrick managed to put the Blades ahead, connecting onto a low-cross from his strike partner Billy Sharp, following a great showing of pace and strength from the skipper. Moments later, the Wanderers came very close to an equaliser but forward Sammy Ameobi was unable to convert Jason Lowe’s whipped cross.

Captain Sharp then went on to secure the three points for his side, with a close-range header following a set-piece situation, which was finely swung into the six-yard box by Ollie Norwood.

Phil Parkinson’s side may have had to leave Bramall Lane empty handed, but an admirable defensive display in front of immense pressure from the Blades, will surely give them some positives to take away.

The opener from McGoldrick was his fifth goal in his last seven appearances for United, his 11th for the season. Whilst, Sharp netted his 19th league goal of the campaign, making them the joint-most prolific strike-pairing in the division, tied on goals with West Brom’s Dwight Gayle, and Jay Rodriguez.

The three points temporarily placed Chris Wilder’s team into second place, although have recently slipped back down to third due to Norwich’s victory at Elland Road. Despite this, United still sit in a fantastic position, only three points behind both Norwich and Leeds with a positive goal difference over their rivals.

Analysing United’s style of play during the game, they again succeeded at controlling and dictating the play for a high percentage of the match, whilst using their natural fitness and short passing ability to wear down Bolton’s aging defence. Their high defensive-line and constant pressure system, also allowed them to dispose Bolton of possession in their own half, proceeding to an instant counter-attack.

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The high amount of passes completed from United’s back three of John Egan, Jack O’Connell, and Chris Basham, also shows how the Blades dominated possession deep. Using their central defenders to hold possession and command the rhythm of the game, before space opened up in the final third.

Additionally, it can’t be ignored how successful Wilder’s side were at creating goal scoring opportunities from set-pieces. Not only, did Sharp’s headed finish come from a Norwood set-piece, but United won 13 corners through the duration of the game, developing several clear-cut chances as a result.

Furthermore in a game which ended 2-0, United only managed two shots on-target all game, which may seem low considering the amount of possession they had throughout the game. Admitting, this also shows the clinicalness of Wilder’s frontline, with Sharp making a career out of making the most out of few chances.

new-5c-20visual_36039329.pngAgainst Bolton, Sharp had fewer touches of the ball than any other Blades player that started the game, but still managed to bag a goal, an assist, and unleash four key passes. Enhancing a classic fox in the box, Sharp proved his ability to control the action, without even touching the ball, solely through his physical presence and movement in the opposition’s half.

Indicating contrast, Sharp didn’t just show his confidence in-front of goal, but also his composure to cut through a defence with his passing ability, as shown with his assist for McGoldrick’s opener.

Conclusively, following this impressive home display the Blades must now prepare for a trip to Villa Park on Friday, as they take out Dean Smith’s out-of-form Aston Villa.

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“I don’t think it’s a game to go and enjoy” says Sheffield United skipper

A week on from their controversial loss against Charlton Athletic, Carla Ward’s Sheffield United will return to action this weekend as they travel to the Loughborough Foxes, to participate in the FA Women’s Cup fourth round. 

The 3-2 defeat on home soil, was the women’s second consecutive loss at the Olympic Legacy Park. With, the game making the headlines not due to either team’s performance, but by virtue of several beyond description errors from the officials.

This resulting fixture saw the Addicks rise into one of the two automatic promotion spots. Whilst, United fell down to eighth in the table, as a consequence of the London Bees defeating Lewes on the same matchday.

On the other hand, this Sunday’s opponents are currently sat third in the FA Women’s National League South, succeeding a satisfying first half of the campaign. They also will be coming into this fixture against the Blades’ with confidence, following their dominant 2-0 victory over C&K Basildon.

When asked whether the fixture against Loughborough can be overlooked due to their position in the Women’s pyramid, United’s captain Ellie Gilliatt, responded: “I don’t think it’s a game to go and enjoy, it’s disrespectful to the opposition”.

“We need to put everything right that we didn’t do for ninety minutes against Charlton. We need to put it right against Loughborough and give them the respect they deserve. I’m not interested who we play, it shouldn’t change our approach to the game”.

United will have to take Loughborough seriously if they’re to progress into the next round, as shown in the competition’s previous round. The Foxes battled back in a seven-goal thriller against Billericay Town, showing their desire to advance in the competition.

Additionally, previewing this Sunday’s fixture Blades manager Ward, said: “It’s all about trying to build on what we have now ready for Durham”.

“It might be a bit of a freebie so to speak with the girls. The FA Cup isn’t important to us this year. We respect the FA Cup, but it’s not important”.

Therefore, it’s evident Ward will be again evaluating her squad at Loughborough, in anticipation for the two crucial upcoming league fixtures against Durham, and Manchester United that follow this FA Cup clash.

 

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How does Chris Wilder’s pressing system differ to Norwich City’s?

With, Chris Wilder looking to bounce back from last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at the Liberty Stadium, an even tougher test is set just right around the corner for the Blades. As this Saturday, Sheffield United will visit Carrow Road, to derail Norwich City’s fantastic first half of the campaign.

Currently sat in second-place, Daniel Farke’s side has brought a new explosive style of the play to the Championship this season. Savouring their energy in the first half, giving them the ability to detonate their pace, and technique onto opponents late into games, when most players are beginning to tire. However, with Chris Wilder and his coaches also demanding such a high level of fitness from his players. Norwich may be in for a scare, as the Blades narrowly sit three points behind them.

Sheffield United Norwich City
Goals Conceded 29 36
Shots Conceded per game 11.3 11.9
Tackles per game 14.5 16.3
Interceptions per game 11.1 9.1
Offsides per game 2.3 1.4
Goals Scored 46 52
Shots per game 12.9 14.5
Shots on-target per game 4.1 5.2
Dribbles per game 5.9 8.7
Fouled per game 9.8 13.7

Firstly, comparing the two Championship powerhouses on a defensive basis, Sheffield United are clearly more structured and disciplined at the back. Conceding less goals, and facing less shots per game, Wilder’s high defensive-line and constant pressing system, has proven to be able to push back opposing attackers into their own half before being intercepted by one of their pressing forwards.

Norwich City primarily set quite a deep back line in the first half, which may play into Sheffield United’s hands, as they look to hold possession and dictate the speed of the game. However, knowing that the Blades’ forwards have a knack of floating offside, Farke may adjust his defence, and lay an ongoing offside trap, in attempt to counter United’s high-pressing system.

Additionally, with the likes of John Egan, and Jack O’Connell laying down a brick wall in front of Dean Henderson’s goal, Wilder and his staff will be confident they can hold out Norwich. In spite of this examining offensive statistics alone, the Canaries’ attack may have too much going forward for United’s defence to handle.

Averaging over 14 shots per game, with at least five of those being on target, Norwich have one of the fiercest frontline’s in the Championship. With their ability to take the ball from deep, and quickly switch the ball to their direct wingers, who average more dribbles per game than any other team in the division. United’s defenders will have to stay disciplined, and avoid lunging into risky tackles, as Norwich’s forwards also have a persistency to hold deep into the opposing backline, making it easy for them to draw fouls in dangerous area.

Sheffield United Norwich City
Possession % 51.6 55.2
Pass Success % 75.9 78.8
Short Passes per game 383 438
Long Passes per game 76 65
Crosses per game 23 17
Aerial duels won per game 24.8 18

Furthermore, comparing each team’s passing styles, it is evident that both teams have a similar philosophy of wanting to dominate possession and look to dictate the play around opponents. Clearly Norwich have seen more success this season, with their ability to play the ball short, and work away at tired defenders, only Leeds United have managed higher possession percentage in the Championship this season.

In order to counter Norwich’s heavy possession-based system, Wilder may have to alter his passing style if he is to have a successful trip to Carrow Road. Undoubtedly, United will utilise their rampaging wing-back and overlapping outside centre backs, which will cause many issues for Norwich. Also, as the Blades average significantly more aerial duels won per game, launching as many crosses and long balls into the box, may show to be effective with Norwich more than likely not expecting a route one style of play from Wilder. Moreover, with the addition of Cardiff forward Gary Madine, the Blades should be able to use his height and strength to their advantage, dominating the ball in the air, whilst Norwich scramble to win back possession.

Sheffield United Norwich City
Goals scored in the first half 19 14
Goals scored in the second half 27 38

Attempting to predict the outcome of this fixture, it is clear Norwich look to sit deep for the entirety of the first half, maintaining possession, whilst wearing down their opposition. Farke then changes the tempo of his team, when he notices his opponents are starting to tire, igniting a high press system which gives Norwich’s attackers the freedom to punish late on in a game.

If Wilder can intercept Norwich’s possession-based system and grab an early lead, this will put pressure on the Canaries to press United in the first half, not allowing Norwich to dictate the tempo of the game. Conclusively, if United can’t score in the first half, Norwich will more than likely take the game into their possession and see out the fixture with a late goal, like they have played all season.