The Blades are moving in the right direction under Chris Wilder

James McAtee’s exquisite goal secured Sheffield United’s victory over Brentford, marking Blades manager Chris Wilder’s first win since his return to the club. The Manchester City loanee’s first Premier League goal, a beautiful shot into the far corner, illuminated a rainy Bramall Lane just before halftime.

Blades substitute Anis Ben Slimane had an opportunity to make it 2-0 in the 56th minute but shot straight at Brentford goalkeeper Mark Flekken, and he had another decent opportunity afterwards, but the angle was always going to be against him.

Brentford rarely threatened the Sheffield United goal, except from in the second half when Yoane Wissa struck a beautiful volley into the hands of Wes Foderingham. Incidentally this was United’s first clean sheet of the season.

Sheffield United move onto eight points, joining Burnley, and Luton are a point in front – they play Manchester City on Sunday.

My take

What I have seen from the last couple of performances has given me hope, and to be honest, I’m not overly surprised that Chris Wilder has got the Blades playing this way.

Every player looks sharper than before, more determined than before, and you can see the confidence is growing in our defending, in our passing, everything.

Under Paul Heckingbottom in the Premier League, we just looked amateurish. We’d attempt to play out, but our shape was all wrong so it was easy for opponents to lock us down, hence why we’d have no other option but to hoof it forward repeatedly.

But under Wilder and his coaching staff we’re seeing a huge improvement in the midfield. Players are now making runs off the back of people, and creating good space for each other. And this is allowing us to have better sustained periods of possession, because players are no longer receiving the ball in poor situations/areas. As a result, Vinicius Souza for example looks a lot more comfortable on the ball than he previously did.

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 09: Chris Wilder, Manager of Sheffield United, acknowledges the fans after the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Brentford FC at Bramall Lane on December 09, 2023 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Defensively I cannot believe how much better we are as a team, and individuals. Take Jayden Bogle for example, he’s gone from looking really exposed and weak to now looking strong in every duel, and very confident when he gets into one-vs-one’s.

When Heckingbottom was in charge, we were giving up an average of 2.53 expected goals conceded per game. Now, I know it’s a small sample size but the last two games we’ve given up an average of 1.17 xGA. Like I said, a small sample size, but that’s a huge step in the right direction. Let’s not forget, the two goals on Wednesday night shouldn’t have even counted either, so if we subtracted 0.71 (the two Liverpool goals xG) it would look even prettier.

Offensively, players are working harder, they’re making more runs, and more impactful runs. Cameron Archer for example. The decision-making is still lacking but I think that is a confidence issue and I expect that aspect to improve over the next week or two.

The previous manager was registering 0.76 expected goals per game, while Wilder has averaged 0.9 xG over his two matches back. To add to this, Heckingbottom’s Blades carved out 14 big chances in 14 matches, Wilder’s Blades have already created five big chances in just two games.

Tags Chris Wilder Paul Heckingbottom