Sheffield United: giving the opposition a free ride

Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom is really up against it after yet another embarrassing performance and defeat, this time against Arsenal. The Blades didn’t even register a shot on goal in what was a negative performance from the get go. 

Since Arsenal made the change between the sticks to replace Aaron Ramsdale with David Raya, this decision has been scrutinised due to the shaky performances and mistakes by Raya. Over the past few weeks the Spanish international has had plenty of dodgy moments with the ball at his feet, and he’s looked fragile when the ball has been lifted in the air in his vicinity. But Sheffield United never once looked to test him last Saturday. 

Sheffield United are giving the opposition a free ride

Instead, they did the opposite. They made it as easy as possible for the struggling keeper. Heckingbottom clearly instructed his team to not engage Arsenal until they got to the halfway line because on every short goal kick the United players retreated to their own half, giving Arsenal the ability to start setting up their attacks from 50 yards out, rather than 80+ yards. 

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 28: Paul Heckingbottom, Manager of Sheffield United, looks dejected as he applauds the fans at full-time following their team’s defeat in the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Sheffield United at Emirates Stadium on October 28, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

My question is: why? Did Heckingbottom set up this way because he was scared of conceding loads, which we did anyway. Or did he genuinely think we could sit in a shape for 90 minutes and frustrate them and hit them on the counter?


Some may say: ‘why press when they can easily break through us?’. A couple of points why we should’ve pressed them; they’d actually exert energy in advancing the ball up the pitch, and there is always a chance of misplaced passes, miscommunication and a heavy touch. Especially with the performances of David Raya recently. 


Another criticism I have about the game at the Emirates is set pieces and throw-ins. It seems like we have to work harder than most teams to win a free-kick. Gustavo Hamer was one of, if not, the best set-piece taker in the Championship last season. All I’m seeing Hamer and Oli Norwood do from corners or freekicks is float them with little pace to the goalkeeper, every game. At least hit them with pace and whip towards the keeper to make it difficult, or loft them with fade so it archs away from the keeper. 


Then throw-ins. United win a throw-in 30 yards away from the opposition’s net. What is the first thought on our minds…throw it 15 yards back to the centre-backs on the halfway line.


I hate being negative about my football club, but I seriously can’t help it if our team is being set up in a negative fashion game after game. The first 20 minutes against Manchester United we were aggressive, direct and positive, but then we just fell back into this negative mindset.


The way I see the Wolves game is, Paul Heckingbottom has one last chance to save his job. In front of your home supporters. Don’t go out on a whimper. Enter the game with an attacking mindset, which is an absolute must for every underdog in football. I want to see a front foot performance at Bramall Lane on Saturday.


Tags Opinion Sheffield United


  1. Personally I’d have thought that employing a high press against Arsenal (particularly with our current fitness and stamina problems) would have resulted in a bigger defeat. We didn’t even have players that are particularly good at pressing.

  2. It’s been coming. We flattered ourselves in the PL season one under Wilder and the following season got found out and in the intervening seasons made questionable overtures into capability based largely on players like Doyle, N’Daiye and Berge, none of whom are in red and white any more. For that matter also we are shackled by the ankle to a faith system that the busted flush that is Oliver Norwood will suddenly start shitting tiffany cufflinks and that similar duds like Bogle and the woeful acquisitions we have cheaply dragged in might show promise. Neither Heckingbottom not the Prince need hang about much after we bomb out of this failed venture in the top flight and shit won’t change unless we bleach the last stubborn stains of Wilderball out of the fabric of the club. It’s as simple as that. We’re doomed.

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