Sheffield United may have just lost back-to-back games in the Premier League but they should feel a lot more positive after their performance against Nottingham Forest.
Norwood a threat
In the opening game of the season, the Blades were forced to play Ben Osborn and Chris Basham in midfield alongside Oli Norwood. The midfield did perform as bad as it looked on paper. But that did not stop Norwood from being a threat.
Against Crystal Palace, Norwood registered Sheffield United’s biggest expected threat [0.32], with a little over 0.2 of that coming from dead-ball deliveries. To put that number into perspective, the Eagles most threatening player was Ebrechi Eze, who registered an expected threat number of 0.78 [markrstats].
And on Friday night, Norwood remained United’s biggest threat with an xT of 0.36. Morgan Gibbs-White was the most threatening player on the pitch [0.78 xT].
The Brazilian duo’s impact
The Blades were able to start a much more formidable midfield of Gustavo Hamer, Vinícius Souza and Oli Norwood against the Reds. As a result, they were able to eventually control the pace of the game, from 25 minutes onwards.
Vinícius Souza had a mega impact in the change of momentum. The full debutant won six of eight duels, five successful tackles, two interceptions along with a key pass and two shot-creating actions [FBref].
Unfortunately, the Brazilian cramped up around the 58th minute and was forced off, and if you check the goal pressure chart [below], it is evident that his presence was missed by United. His ball retention skills were on full display, and you can only think his impact will become much greater once he gets fully match fit.
Hamer scored an excellent goal, but his effectiveness in possession was clear to see. He would always look to advance the ball high up the pitch. His goal had an xG of 0.02, and I’m confident he can replicate similar types of goals this season. The midfielder completed three of six long balls, whilst he also put in two successful crosses out of five.
Progression and goal pressure
Sheffield United didn’t have a single player register one progressive carry against Crystal Palace, and they had nobody make four progressive passes. [credit to @markrstats]
But they improved that versus Forest. Anel Ahmedhodzic registered over one progressive carry, while Norwood registered almost six progressive passes.
The progression graphic against Palace looks like Sheffield United were suffocated all game, and that was virtually the case. And the goal pressure chart paints the full picture. (Blades = green).
But against Nottingham Forest, United were able to sustain dangerous attack after attack. (Blades = blue).
Understandably, there is plenty of negativity surrounding Sheffield United’s start to the season. But when you put into perspective last Friday’s performance in possession, I think that offers a massive glimmer of hope.
One concern is the three goals the Blades have conceded thus far have been from crosses coming from United’s left-hand side. The goal conceded against Palace saw Ahmedhodzic sleeping at the back post. The two goals conceded to Forest saw John Egan lose his man twice. Although the Chris Wood header was outstanding, registering just 0.12 xG [SofaScore].
You’d expect the back line to cut out simple defensive mistakes otherwise it will be a far worse season than most envisioned, considering the majority of fans would’ve said the defence will be United’s strong point this campaign.