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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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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.