Sheffield United (H) Match Preview

After a Wiganless weekend Latics welcome promotion chasing Sheffield United to the DW on Monday night in front of the Sky Sports cameras. Its also Kolo Toure’s first home game in charge and I’m sure he’ll be looking for his side to build on the positive performance they put in against Millwall at the Den last weekend.

There were some really positive aspects from the game last Saturday and you’d think things will only keep improving. The team looked far better in possession and scored a lovely goal, but against a Sheffield United side sitting comfortably in the top 2 of the Championship I can’t imagine we’ll see as much of the ball.

The Blades have been excellent for most of the season and deservedly find themselves 5 points clear in the promotion places. They play a system that is extremely well drilled and has been for a number of years, and possess quality all over the pitch. Our record against them, particularly at home, isn’t much to shout about so we’re definitely in for a stern test.

Latics Team News

Having seen the game down at Millwall it gave us an idea of how Kolo wants us to play this season. He picked a 4-2-3-1 system and for the first time in as long as I can remember we lined up without a target man at the top end of the pitch! With the news regarding Charlie Wyke in midweek I expect that to continue.

Wyke, who has been plagued with injuries since returning to action after his cardiac arrest, has picked up a knee injury that looks like it’ll keep him out until the new year. With Ashley Fletcher likely to be recalled in January, something that will save us a rumoured £15k per week in wages, Nathan Broadhead may well be Kolo’s man to lead the line for the rest of the season.

The goalkeeping department had some question marks around it after the World Cup break and it was Jamie Jones that was given the gloves on Saturday. He made a huge save early on but definitely could’ve done better with the Millwall goal. Its an area that we’ve not quite nailed this season but I don’t see us bringing a keeper in in January so hopefully one of them finds form quickly.

Joe Bennett got the nod at Left back and played well behind James McClean who took up his more natural LW position. It worked really well and I expect them to line up in the same positions against the Blades, and they’ll both have a fair amount of defensive responsibility against a strong right side.

Equally on our right flank Darikwa and Lang formed a solid partnership. The former will be challenged by Ryan Nyambe who is back in full training and really suits a back 4, but probably isn’t fit enough to be thrown straight in. Lang was brilliant and had Millwall’s left back on toast at the Den, he’ll be huge for us on the counter attack in this game.

The midfield two weren’t what most were wanting nor expecting but they performed pretty well in fairness. Naylor was really deep, often playing level with the two CBs which allowed Power to push high up the pitch without leaving us too open. In possession Naylor still wasn’t great and I’d rather see Cousins play in his place, but if he keeps playing as he did I won’t complain.

Will Keane played in the 10 role behind Broadhead and FINALLY, after months and months of me saying he needs to drop into space rather than pushing so high up the pitch, he looked like the full package. He dropped off to receive the ball from Tilt, spread the ball wide and then got on the end of things to score. It was the perfect number 10s goal and I’m excited to see more of it.

An Opposition View

To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into tonight’s fixture I’ve called in the help of someone far more knowledgeable on Sheffield United than myself!

1) It’s been some season for Sheffield United with your side currently sat 5 points clear in the automatic promotion places. Can you sum up the campaign so far for us?

It started with a little wobble at Watford, but from then on all the right pieces started to fall in the right places, and we showed why when the squad is fully fit we can be a stand out performer in the division, it was all Austen’s go, and of course as fans we were loving it! Then the injury’s began, and the form began to dip, giving us that familiar feeling of, here we go again! But hopefully the World Cup has given us s chance to regroup!

2) Your away form has been excellent this season, picking up 20 points from 11 games. Does that fill you with confidence going into the game against a Latics side that struggle at home?

It’s a double edged sword really, looking at the form table it puts a lot of expectation on us, and gives Wigan a huge point to price after the break! Kolo will have the players in your team running through brick walls for this! Wanting to get things going as soon as he can in a positive way! So confident? Maybe quietly but definitely not expecting an easy ride!

3) People outside of Sheffield United might be surprised to see Paul Heckingbottom doing so well in charge given his indifferent managerial career pre Blades. How impressed have you been by his work at the club?

I get asked thus question a lot, so many people are ‘surprised’ with Hecky, he did brilliant work at Barnsley, left to manage Leeds who at the time were literally a banter club before going to Scotland where the standard of football outside the big two is literally worse than what I see every Sunday morning at my young sons games! So after working with our youngsters under Wilder for a year or so, getting to know the team in the same roll, adapting a system for the youngsters to slot into the first team and playing a similar way, along with the great coaching staff appointments and players we currently have I don’t understand why anyone is surprised! I’ve been impressed with him more for the fact he’s adapted and learned from previous mistakes and used his previous shortcomings to improve!

4) Finally, your squad is full of talent but who do you think will cause Latics the most problems on Monday night?

Ndiyaye the guy is just unreal, simply unreal! There’s not much more I need to say!

Tactical Talk

I think the Millwall game taught us a lot about how Kolo wants us to play. It was our highest possession figure (58.3%) since the Reading game, excluding the Blackpool game where we played against 10 men for over an hour. We also made the lowest number of long passes per pass in any game this season, considerably lower than most of the games under Leam.

Despite dominating possession we actually got a lot of success on the counter attack which bodes well for this game in my opinion. Sheffield United will look to keep the ball for long spells and with the 4 pronged attack, assuming we play the same system, we have some really dangerous players on the break.

However, I do actually expect us to see a fair amount of the ball tonight. The Blades average 46% possession away from home, compared to 56% at Bramall Lane so the stats suggest we might dominate the ball. This could play into our hands if we can find spaces in attacking areas like we did last weekend, but we’re playing a far better team this time.

They average 2.24 counter attacks conceded per 90 away from home so the transition will be huge for us. Here are a few examples of us winning the ball high up the pitch and catching Millwall out last Saturday

Broadhead and Keane work well together centrally to win the ball. Lang and McClean are high and wide which spreads the Millwall back 4 and creates space through the middle.
A loose ball falls in the middle of the pitch and immediately there are 4 Latics players there ready to pounce. Broadhead stretches the play down the right creating space centrally for Lang to burst into, McClean occupies the Left side and Keane supports from behind. The 4 did this well all game.

Sheffield United defend with a 5 and have a deep midfielder screening in front. Ollie Norwood is one of the best Deep Playmakers in the league and I’d like to see Keane man mark him during long spells of Blades possession. If we allow him to dictate play he’ll hurt us as he has done to a lot of teams this season.

As mentioned earlier their dangerman is Senegal international Iliman N’Diaye. His pace and trickery is really hard to defend against and he’ll be waiting to launch counter attacks when any loose ball drops. If he’s on his game we’ll have our work cut out and I think its important one of our CMs remains deep to provide protection to our back line.

With it being Kolo’s first home game in charge I’m expecting us to be positive. I’ve said it before this season, I’d rather see us go for it in games and go out on our shield than sit off the big teams and let them walk all over us. On paper they’re the better side but with the right game plan and everyone doing their jobs I’m confident we can cause an upset.

Final Thoughts

As first home games go its fair to say Kolo’s been dealt a tough hand here! Sheffield United are more than likely going to end the season with a promotion party and have a squad of players to match any team in the division, so Latics may find things difficult at times. However, its the perfect opportunity to impress the new manager and the Latics fans alike.

Its also the last EFL game before Christmas and a national audience will tune in to Sky Sports to watch it. We played well the last time the Sky cameras came to town so hopefully the same happens again!

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