Scouting Next Man United Opposition: Sheffield United Are Having Fun

Manchester United are returning to Premier League football once again! After two weeks of international football and the final stages of the EURO 2020 qualifiers, now it is that time when the club football will not be getting interrupted until late March. That also means we are fast approaching another festive season and the hectic period when many teams start crumbling.

But before then, there are also some more matches that do not fall into that category. And one team that is not falling into the category of a crumbling side is Sheffield United. In fact, they are so far from that category that no one even remembers they are a newly-promoted side. After a great start of the season, their appetites are growing.

How Are They Doing So Far?

Sheffield United have been doing magnificently, with 17 points from the opening 12 rounds. That is just three points off 20, which is half of that magical number of points. All of that with less than a third of the season gone? No wonder everyone is happy at Bramall Lane. The bonus to those 17 points? They got them to sitting in fifth place, behind Manchester City!

Yes, it has been a great start of the season and Sheffield have won four, drew five and lost three so far since coming up from Championship. They are in great form, as they are undefeated in last five, since that 1-0 loss to Liverpool.

In those five, they played against both North London clubs, beating Arsenal and getting a point against Spurs. The three times they lost was against Liverpool, Southampton and Leicester, but they also drew against up-and-running Chelsea.

Overperforming Defensively

It is important to note here that Sheffield United have been overperforming their underlying numbers, most significantly those about the defence. So far this season, Chris Wilder’s team conceded just nine goals, but the expected goals against model are suggesting on average they would have been expected to concede 16.36 goals. That is a huge difference even across the entirety of a season, let alone after 12 matches.

It suggests that Sheffield United might start conceding more than they used to, simply by reverting to the mean. Sometimes they were lucky, like when they kept a clean-sheet against Everton with xGA amounting to 1.88 goals.

How They Line Up?

They line up in a very interesting 3-5-2 formation which has made Wilder’s Blades stand out from the rest of the league. In the era when new things do not happen in football every other day, Wilder has managed to do something that no one has been really doing before him. Welcome to the concept of overlapping centre-backs. We all know about overlapping full-backs, going high up the pitch as if they were wingers, but Wilder has done something similar with his centre-backs. His left and right centre-back in the back three are often swapping positions with the wing-backs he uses on the flanks and thus players like Josh Egan often end up going forwards like a proper winger. That has made many sympathise with Sheffield United, but this team is full of grinders who will not make it easy for Manchester United.

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