Sheffield United resume their season with a trip to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday. After picking up a point against Everton just before the international break, the pressure of getting that first point on the board has been lifted, and not many will envisage them earning a point versus high-flying Spurs.
Paul Heckingbottom has stated that their are some injury concerns, with George Baldock and Anel Ahmedhodzic picking up injuries during the international break. Heckingbottom has stated that Ahmedhodzic is the only one fit. But he has assured everyone that Tom Davies is nearing a return to action. John Egan was brought off against Everton after taking knocks to his knee and ankle, but he played in both of Ireland’s matches in the break, but the gaffer has confirmed he has picked up another knock. Will Osula is also injured.
Ange Postecoglu will be without Bryan Gil, Ryan Sessegnon and Rodrigo Bentancur. Spurs had injury scares with Heung-min Son and Cristian Romero during international duty but they will be fit to play at the weekend [Football.London].
Everyone is expecting Spurs to play a possession-based style, utilise short passes and fluid movement to pull apart Sheffield United’s defensive block. A couple of players are worth pointing out for Spurs because of how the game will play out.
Firstly, Micky Van De Ven, the Tottenham centre-back, who has already demonstrated calmness and composure on the ball to break the opposition press. So far, he is averaging 65 accurate passes per game (93% accuracy), per FBref. He’s also shown his defensive qualities by stopping several counterattacks with his pace and reading of the game.
The second Spurs player I want to focus on is James Maddison; I can see plenty of patterns where United’s defensive shape has been penetrated by Van De Ven, by finding James Maddison in pockets of space.
Maddison has been in top form thus far, with four goal involvements already. He’s averaging 2.5 key passes per game, and he’s already created two big chances. Additionally, his shots on target per game is a high number – 2.3 shots on target per game is only beaten in the Premier League by Erling Haaland [FBref].
For the Blades, George Baldock will be a difference maker against Spurs, if he is fit to play. Having already matched up well with Jack Grealish, the Greek international will have to be on top form against Denis Udogie who has been a stand out performer in the Premier League. Although he’s a fullback, he gets forward a lot. However, there will be opportunities for United to launch quick attacks, and if Baldock can make runs down the right, that can give United an option over the top of the defence.
Cameron Archer can also be a game changer. His pace and movement in transition will cause any team problems, as long as the passes into him are accurate. We’ve already seen his clinical finishing on display against Everton and that will need to be replicated on Saturday.
Son Heung-min has actively contributed to 31 goals in his most recent 31 Premier League appearances against newly promoted teams, with an impressive tally of 21 goals and 10 assists [SofaScore]. His last outing included a remarkable hat-trick against Burnley. Notably, only seven players in Premier League history have managed to score hat-tricks in consecutive appearances, with Erling Haaland being the most recent in August 2022.
Sheffield United’s track record against teams starting the day in the top two of the Premier League has seen them lose 14 out of their last 15 matches, with their solitary exception being a 2-1 victory against Manchester United in January 2021.
For the Blades to get anything out of this game they would have to hope that Spurs’ momentum and flow has been hindered by the international break. And I think that will be the case, to some extent.
If Paul Heckingbottom can set United up in a regimented defensive shape like how they performed against Manchester City, I think it will be difficult for Postecoglu’s side at times.
One of the main reasons why City were able to get joy against the Blades was because they were able to go direct into Haaland if they couldn’t play through the shape. Spurs do not have that luxury.
Call me silly but I do think the Blades can get a classical smash and grab at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium.