Scout report: Sheffield United's key strengths, ones to watch and tactics ahead of Sunderland clash
Had Sheffield United hosted Sunderland in the Carabao Cup three years ago, United would’ve been the unfancied underdogs.
Today, following The Blades’ meteoric rise from League One and successive relegations for The Black Cats’, the opposite is true.
And as the final preparations are made ahead of tonight’s game, what can be expected from Sheffield United?
How will they line-up?
Somewhat surprisingly, Blades manager Chris Wilder is a remarkable tactical innovator. Along with assistant manager Alan Knill, he has developed an attack-oriented 3-5-2 formation with overlapping wing-backs and centre-halves which has worked to devastating effect in the Steel City.
Whenever United’s wing-backs, who themselves bomb forward to support the two more advanced midfielders, find their options limited on the flank, one of the outer centre-halves bombs forward to offer support and create a numerical and positional overload on that flank.
This system helped to deliver promotion from both League One and the Championship and has been used to great effect in the Premier League, though the No. 10 role has now been replaced by a defensive midfielder in order to counter the step-up in opponents’ attacking threat.
The Blades are likely to rotate their personnel for this mid-week clash, with starting berths for goalkeeper Simon Moore, centre-halves Phil Jagielka and Richard Stearman, wing-backs Kieron Freeman and Ben Osborn, midfielder Ravel Morrison, and forwards Billy Sharp and Lys Mousset probable. Mo Bešić, a two-time loanee with Middlesbrough, is also likely to start.
Who will be their key players?
Of those likely to be named in the starting eleven, Phil Jagielka and Billy Sharp are two experienced heads who will be keen to prove their starting credentials following limited first-team roles so far this season.
It goes without saying that maverick midfielder Ravel Morrison has more than enough technical ability to turn a game on its head, and Sunderland will certainly have their work cut out if he’s in the right frame of mind this evening.
Also, due to their importance in Wilder’s 3-5-2, likely starting wing-backs Kieron Freeman and Ben Osborn are also two to keep an eye on.
What is their current form like?
As touched on above, the Blades have made a superb start to life in the Premier League and currently sit in 10th place on eight points after two wins, two draws and two losses from their opening six matches.
Before drawing away at Chelsea the following Saturday, they defeated Blackburn Rovers 2-1 in the second round of the League Cup on August 27th and, on Saturday, they beat Everton 2-0 at Goodison Park to claim their first Premier League away win since December 2006.
Their form is impressive, and under pressure Sunderland manager Jack Ross will need a big performance from his players if they are to come away from Bramall Lane with a place in the next round.