Who are Sheffield United?

Sheffield United won promotion to the Premier League for the first time since 2006/07. It is the third time they have won promotion to the top tier in the Premier League era, having previously participated in the league in 1992-94 and 2006-07. The Blades are managed by former player Chris Wilder and captained by boyhood fan Billy Sharp.

Wilder and Sharp
Chris Wilder and Billy Sharp are life-long Blades fans.

Wilder took charge of the Blades in 2016, after previously managing Oxford United and Northampton Town. The 51-year-old guided the Blades to the League One title in his first season at the helm. In their first season back in the Championship, the Blades were in contention for the playoffs for a majority of the season, before a dip in form at the end of the campaign saw them finish 10th.

United backed up their strong showing last season by taking their game to another level and clinching promotion with a game to play.

Sheffield United were founded in 1889 as an offshoot to the Sheffield United Cricket Club. They were nicknamed ‘The Blades’ in reference to the city’s production of cutlery. They play their home games at Bramall Lane, which has been their home since their foundation in 1889 and is the oldest major stadium in the world still to be hosting professional association football matches.

The Blades won the first division in 1898 and the FA Cup in 1899, 1902, 1915 and 1925. The darkest period in their history came between 1975 to 1981. After finishing sixth in the First Division at the end of the 1974-75 season, the Blades were relegated to the Second Division the following season and three years after that were relegated to the Third Division. In 1981 they were relegated to the Fourth Division, but won promotion in their first season in the league.

The Blades are owned by the Blades Leisure Limited group. In 2015, 50 per cent of the club was sold to Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad Al Saud for just £1 and the promise of future investment. However the relationship between chairman Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah has soured and McCabe has made an offer to buyout the Prince. McCabe intends to sell the club to investors who will carry the club’s traditions into the future.

Style of play

Chris Wilder’s men play a unique system unseen in English Football. The Blades set up in a 3-4-1-2 formation that becomes a 5-3-2 system without the ball. This works well against narrow and wide formations as the back five stays compact, while the wing-backs can push wide to mark the wingers or overlapping full-backs.

Sheffield United formation
Sheffield United lineup vs Ipswich Town. Credit: FootballBH

With this system, the Blades have kept 21 clean sheets in 45 matches in the Championship, which is one of the reasons why they clinched promotion over the likes of Leeds United, West Brom and Aston Villa.

It is on offence when the formation becomes unique. On the attack, the two wide centre backs – predominately Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell, push out to wing-back to overload the flanks. The wing-backs then become wingers, which forces opponents to defend wide and creates space in the centre for the likes of Billy Sharpe, David McGoldrick and Mark Duffy.

The two centre backs can also make bursting runs into the opposition half as far as the penalty area and byline, as seen in the image below.

Chris Basham marked by the red arrow making a forward run. Credit: Total Football Analysis

The system, known as the ‘false five’ relies heavily on the number 10 to link play between midfield and the forwards. Mark Duffy has done an exceptional job as an attacking midfielder this season, while Oliver Norwood has provided eight assists from midfield and was named in the Championship Team of the Season.

Attacking midfielder links the midfield and forwards. Credit: Total Football Analysis

Time will tell whether the Blades system will work in the Premier League. However, Wolves have shown this season that three at the back can work in the top tier, as long as long as each player knows there role accordingly.

Christopher Chrysostomou