By Dean Gregory
Sheffield United vs Aston Villa
After last weekend’s humbling defeat to Leicester, Villa will look to bounce back at Sheffield United, who currently sit at the lofty height of 8th on 22 points.
Sheffield’s return to the Premier League has so far been a rousing success, looking like they belong there despite being the cheapest assembled team in the league.
Can Villa despite missing Tyrone Mings for the trip start to gain form by taking points off their fellow promotees?
Sheffield United – D D D L W
Aston Villa – L W D L L
Dean Smith on Sheffield United
“We’re going to Sheffield United, a team I really like, Chris Wilder’s done unbelievable there. They’re a team that got promoted like ourselves who are unbeaten away from home in the Premier League, which just shows how you can do with a team that’s been setup for a long time. We’re a team that has been thrown together in the summer. We’ve kept a nucleas of players in terms of the spine but a lot are getting used to the Premier League and they’ll get better for the experiences we’ve had so far.
“They have threats all over the pitch. Their wing-backs scored both goals last week at Norwich City. They haven’t conceded a lot of goals. I know a couple of their back three, Jack O’Connell and John Egan, I had both of them at Brentford. I know them well and we had a really good game at Villa Park last season, 3-0 down with 10 minutes to go and getting back to 3-3. It’ll be a good, entertaining game. I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done so far.”
Chris Wilder on recruitment
“I always think there can be a bit of snobbery when it comes to recruitment.
“A lot of the time, you get the impression that people won’t look at people who are lower down the divisions.
“But what a lot of our lads have done is show that there’s real talent down there.
“And that, if you work hard and apply yourself, then you put yourself in a position to go on and achieve things.”
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Sheffield use a 3-5-2 formation with David McGoldrick and Callum Robinson as strike partners, Oliver Norwood supporting in midfield and a back three of Chris Basham, John Egan and Jack O’Connell.
Chris Wilder utilises the concept of conveyor belt-like positional switching to keep opponents guessing. Of the three centre backs, John Egan mostly holds his position while his partners, who more closely resemble fullbacks, regularly switch and overlap with the wing backs and midfielders in front of them.
Likewise, the wingbacks often swap places with the striker on their side along with the midfielder closest to them. This means that they maintain passing triangles all the way up the pitch, as well as fluid, constant movement that is difficult to defend against.
In attack, Sheffield are fairly efficient; 19 goals from a team xG of 20.22 shows that they are good value for their performances. They don’t generate a lot of chances in their games, but when they do they are often of good quality.
They play a daring brand of football, too – they like to push high up the pitch and attempt to control the game in their opposition’s half, despite averaging 45.5% possession so far this season. Their overall passing accuracy of 75.4% is reasonable, but it shows where their vulnerabilities are – they can be intercepted, and there will likely be space in behind to exploit.
Sheffield are a dangerous side who have taken to the Premier League very well. They will present a tough challenge for Villa.
One to watch
Despite only playing 600 minutes in 13 games so far, striker Lys Mousset is Sheffield’s highest goal contributor with five goals and three assists. These numbers suggest he should be playing more often and for longer, so it begs the question – why is he not?
Perhaps it is his dismal pass success rate of 67.2%? Or could it be his non-existent defensive workrate, a vital trait in a Chris Wilder system? Whatever it is, his time on the pitch will likely be Sheffield’s most dangerous period of the game.
Sheffield United 0-1 Aston Villa – 30-01-2018
A cagey and tense match was lit up in the 90th minute by a screamer from Robert Snodgrass, in what was among the most electrifying moments of a season that almost ended in glory.
How it could play out
There’s no doubt about it, Sheffield United have enjoyed the best campaign so far out of the newly promoted teams. They have taken a point from Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United, and have beaten Arsenal on the way to their current 8th place spot in the league.
All of that with a squad worth £104.45 million, the cheapest in the league. Chris Wilder proved in the Championship that buying power isn’t the only thing that matters, and he’s doing a good job of proving that point in the Premier League too.
Villa have taken a hit with Mings being out for at least the rest of 2019. While far from perfect, his overall presence in the defense made the Villa back line a stronger unit. The question is, who should replace him for now?
The obvious answer is Hause, but in the last match Smith opted to call upon Engels instead.With the aerial ability Sheffield have, along with their propensity towards crossing the ball, Villa should consider a centre back pairing of Engels and Konsa, as they win five aerial duels between them per game.
Sheffield are a tactically astute team who know how to get the absolute best out of every player. Everybody knows the system, everybody understands their role within it. Villa could learn a thing or two by paying attention to what they do.
Sheffield United 1-2 Aston Villa
This is one of the games Villa have to be able to win if they want to reestablish themselves in the league. United have lost more games at home, then they have won. It will not be easy though – the odds will be against them this time.
[Has Dean got his claret and blue specs on with this prediction? – MOMS]