As we head into the international break, Sheffield United will feel disappointed having only got a single point on the board after throwing away a point against Nottingham Forest and Manchester City. Nevertheless, they sit in 17th position.
Style of play & personnel
The Blades have stuck to their guns in terms of system, continuing to play the 3-5-2 shape. Regular starters from the Championship last season have been ever-present in the Premier League so far.
Wes Foderingham between the sticks has been guarded by Anel Ahmedhodzic, John Egan and Jack Robinson. And coming into the Premier League campaign, the majority of Sheffield United fans would have expected the back three to be the most solid part of the team, which hasn’t been the case.
George Baldock down the right with the raw Yasser Larouci on the opposite flank, however, Luke Thomas may be favoured at left-wingback for the foreseeable, especially considering Larouci’s shaky start.
The Blades still have Oli Norwood as their main orchestrator, but he is now joined by a Brazilian enforcer Vinícius Souza who loves the physical side of the game. And to complete the midfield, Gustavo Hamer, a tenacious yet highly intelligent footballer.
Paul Heckingbottom had to stick with Bénie Traoré and Will Osula up top for the first three games, but we got a glance into the immediate future against Everton with Cameron Archer and Oli McBurnie excellently leading the line.
The Blades also have James McAtee to fit in after the international break which adds a whole new dimension to the team. With the “Salford Silva’s” dribbling ability and Hamer’s passing creativity, they have a great one-two punch from midfield available. But they need to somehow find a balance between Hamer, McAtee, Norwood and/or Souza.
Thus far, statistics and trends suggest that United will be a fast and direct team this season. The Blades have a direct passing speed of 1.7m/s and an average pass sequence of just shy of 2.6, both comparable to Luton Town. To add, United have averaged 37% possession which is the fourth-lowest in the league.
Pinpointing passes into McBurnie, to chest or feet, appears to be an effective route of attack. Even if the direct pass is inaccurate, the Blades attempt to mop up the second or third ball. And with the pace of Archer and Bénie Traoré, they have runners that can cause teams problems in the channels.
I won’t go through every goal, but I must say every goal United have conceded so far has been from mistakes.
In the first game, against Crystal Palace, the Blades conceded a terrible goal. You could look at Ben Osborn and say he should do better to stop Jordan Ayew’s cross from coming in. But, when you have Robinson zonally marking the near post, he should clear the ball. Then it was a combination of Egan who was zonally marking the centre of the six-yard box, and then Ahmedhodzic who was on his heels at the back post. The lack of communication and concentration at the back has been an alarming theme in Sheffield United’s games.
In the game against Everton, the first goal was just pure laziness from Baldock of all people. Baldock had an outstanding showing against Manchester City, one-vs-one with Jack Grealish, but his involvement in Everton’s first goal was amateurish.
Then for their second goal, Larouci decided to play aggressively on Everton’s Nathan Patterson, unnecessarily leaving his left-back position in the back five. Larouci should’ve stayed in the back five and let they midfielders shift over to the ball. But instead he comes charging out and it creates all sorts of disjointment in the back line with Robinson sucked into a player in the pocket. There was about 15 yards of space down United’s left for Patterson to stride into and put in a simple cross.
United have created five big chances so far, the second-lowest in the league and all five big chances have been fluffed. Obviously this is something Heckingbottom will be keen to address because you have to be clinical in the Premier League.
In terms of progressive passing, the Blades are the worst in the division at that, with an average of 19 progressive passes per90 [FBref]. But this should improve now they have a much better midfield available.
One other thing I’d like United to improve on is to increase the quantity of crosses into the box. Often in the Championship, we looked to create the most perfect crossing opportunity by shifting the ball around working 3vs2 situations out wide. But do we really have that luxury to do so in the Premier League? Against Everton, for the first goal, we saw just how effective an early cross can be.
So far United have averaged 13 crosses per90, with around three of those being accurate. I’d like to see the quantity go up, just so it causes more havoc in the opposition area.
I think Paul Heckingbottom will be encouraging us to take more shots when we come out of the international break. United average the second-lowest amount of shots per game, and, we average 3.5 shots on target per game. We have players with the ability to strike a ball from 20 yards out now, Hamer, Archer and Souza. Even Norwood likes to test the keeper from distance and is often on target, but never overly extends the goalkeeper.
With barely any of our players jetting off to represent their country, this 13 day break will help us massively to work on new things. We really need to find some sort of form because we have three tough fixtures coming up: Spurs (A), Newcastle (H) and West Ham (A). I don’t like to put a negative spin on things but there is a real possibility that we could head into October with just a point. And that spells trouble.
As things stand, we should be 19th-place when you factor in expected points [understat], with Burnley being bottom. But I back the coaching staff to turn things around and I can see us causing an upset either against Spurs or Newcastle.