Aston Villa vs Sheffield United Match Preview
By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa belatedly kick-off the new season one week after most of the other teams in the league, thanks to Man City being awarded an extra week off because of the Champions League. As such, their first game will be at home to a Sheffield United side that outperformed everybody’s expectations last season. Now no longer a surprise to the league, many expect the Blades to perhaps drop off from their success of last season and certainly they’ll be keen to avoid back-to-back defeats against West Midlands teams.
Two very early goals by a strong Wolves team saw them lose their opening fixture, despite playing well themselves. Meanwhile, Villa will come into the match after a 1-0 friendly win over Man United and a late 3-1 cup win against Burton Albion in the last week. They will be looking to keep the momentum rolling into the new league season.
Aston Villa – N/A
Sheffield United – L
Dean Smith on season target
“We’re looking at improving and we weren’t satisfied with finishing 17th in the league.
“We believe, with the players that we’ve got, that we’ll be better for our experiences last season.
“We stayed up on the last day last season and we learnt a lot of lessons. We had a lot of change from the previous season and a lot of injuries as well.
“Hopefully we don’t have those injuries this year and we can be a better team than we were. Our aim now is to finish higher than we did last season.”
Chris Wilder on Aston Villa
“We have had a decent record against Villa, a fabulous club, really established and you talk about the top clubs like Liverpool, Arsenal’s who have won things but when you look at clubs in terms of stature you put Villa and the likes of Newcastle and Leeds right up there.”
“They have certainly improved the squad, fabulous signings. We know all about Ollie Watkins and Matty Cash, they will be better for that first year experience and I am sure everyone will want to go better than what they did last year.
“You would expect them to be because of the quality that they have got and have every right to do that. I believe they will go better when you look at the quality and depth of their squad. They have attracted some very good players.”
Sheffield United have persisted with their innovative 3-5-2 formation, with Oliver McBurnie and Billy Sharp partnering in defence, Oliver Norwood pulling the strings in midfield and a back three of Jack O’Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham.
Their tactics revolve around the versatility of every player in the team; they all regularly swap positions in triangles with the players immediately around them. This has the dual advantage of making them unpredictable to defend against, while also allowing them to preserve energy by swapping between more and less demanding positions.
To thrive in this system, the players need to be tactically astute, switched on and disciplined. This is reflected in how they limited Wolves to mostly low quality chances, and were very unfortunate to concede two so early in the match.
Defensively, they picked up roughly where they left off last season – they ended up with 1.44 xGA (expected goals against), limiting Wolves to a series of low quality chances; an average of 0.18 xGA per shot. The fact that both goals were conceded within seven minutes of play suggests they came into the season with a lack of urgency about them, but that will have been shaken off pretty quickly.
It remains to be seen whether they will do as well this season as they did the last, but they still have that same discipline and awareness that saw them defy everybody’s expectations.
One to Watch
Villa fans may remember the name Enda Stevens for his time as a Villa player. He has gone on to be a competent and astute defender brilliantly suited to Chris WIlder’s system. Against Wolves he completed 92% of his passes, made three tackles, one interception, and one clearance, and touched the ball 78 times – more than any other player from either team.
Aston Villa 0-0 Sheffield United – 17-06-2020
Not the most exciting of games, but notable for a couple of reasons – it was the very first fixture played after the restart last season, and perhaps as a direct result of this, it involved the controversial “ghost goal”. Villa have become targets in the eyes of many due to this, as they feel Villa are only still in the league due to blind luck. Could it affect how other teams perform against them?
How it Could Play Out
Sheffield United are not known for playing on the front foot. Villa’s transfer business so far suggests that Smith is looking to set them up as a counter-attacking side, so it will be interesting to see if they have done enough in training to know how to perform as the side in control of the match.
Sheffield leave very little space in between their defensive lines, so creativity will be required to unlock their defence along with clever movement. Creativity has never been an issue as long as Grealish has been able to get time on the ball, but a lack of clever movement has seen Villa miss out on a lot of clear chances presented.
The inclusion of a smart poacher in Ollie Watkins has already shown how this positional awareness can be a massive benefit to the team – he now has to prove he can do it when there is considerably less space to work with.
Speaking of Ollie Watkins, he will not be the only player making his Premier League bow for Villa. They are likely to start with as many as three debutants – Watkins and Emiliano Martinez look dead certain to start, while Matty Cash is also very likely to start as well. Bertrand Traore might make an appearance off the bench to give fans a glimpse of how he can improve the team going forward.
Villa have had little luck against Sheffield the last few times they have met – they have not won in the last four games, losing two and drawing two. Given their net improvements in this transfer window so far, as well as the fact that Sheffield keeper Aaron Ramsdale does not look as solid as Dean Henderson did last season, they could turn their fortunes around here.
Aston Villa 1-0 Sheffield United
How much has Villa’s attack actually improved? This match will offer the answer. It may take some time yet for the players to gel properly, but this game provides an ideal chance to start the season positively; it will be one of tight margins and limited chances. Just don’t underestimate the Blades.