By 90Min
October 27, 2019

Six days have brought four points from two games in which many would have given Sheffield United zero chance in before the season started - the numbers are all adding up for Chris Wilder as the Blades manager continues to work his tactical magic.

Like a new kid on the first day of school, the watching world are obsessed with the novelty of his overlapping centre-backs, but there's so much more to his Blades survival bid and this week has showed the best of his game management. As such, that will be the first and last mention of any overlapping centre-backs. Except that one.

On Saturday evening, United sat seventh in the table after ten games, having followed up their victory over Arsenal with an impressive point and performance at West Ham's London Stadium. So how exactly is Wilder defying the odds to keep them on track for Premier League safety and an ascent up the table?

His advantage over so many of his counterparts is that he's bold, brave and unafraid of making changes to his formation in-game, or of altering personnel - in fact, he's probably been the Premier League's finest manager at doing that this season.

Who else would drop their striker into midfield and change their formation for 19 second-half minutes to turn the game on its head? That's exactly what Wilder did as West Ham's wingers and full-backs were limiting the effectiveness of his wing-backs, while The Blades needed an injection of pace up front.

Between the introductions of Lys Mousset in the 63rd minute and Muhamed Besic in the 81st, David McGoldrick joined the midfield trio and there were two formations - the 5-3-2 in defence and a 3-4-3 in attack. The Ireland striker stepped up, the wing-backs made the midfield a four and it was this switch that led to their equaliser. There were three bodies in the box when George Baldock whipped his cross in, Billy Sharp, Mousset and that man McGoldrick. 

Back in the game, Wilder replaced the striker with Besic and it was back-five business as usual as they defended their point - although they can be thankful for some wasteful West Ham finishing too.

Marc Atkins/GettyImages

The Arsenal game was another case in point, as Wilder shuffled his formation just when the Gunners began to turn the screw. Chris Basham was instructed to step forward into a midfield five and they were able to disrupt Unai Emery's arguably more talented players further up the pitch. 

Once the job was done, they saw out the game in their usual 5-3-2 formation to claim a milestone victory over one of the Premier League's top six.

That Monday night performance was also a masterclass in when to press your opponent higher up the pitch and when to sit back. Where others start on the back foot and plan for more talented opponents by defending their own penalty area, Wilder is fearless and has no problem hassling teams in their box - he's just smart about when they do it.

The five minutes either side of half time were crucial, Wilder knows that they can set the tempo for the second 45 and seems to instruct his team to press with energy to prevent their opponents building momentum. 

It backfired before half time on Saturday, West Ham breaking away to score on 44 minutes, but the other side of the break it prevented the Hammers building momentum and adding to their lead.

They served up the same treatment to Chelsea on their August visit to the capital, turning around a two-goal deficit at half time to head back north with a point. Too much respect was paid to Frank Lampard's side in the first half, absolutely none was given in the second and the Blades scored just one minute after the break. 


The tempo with which they started the half caught Chelsea flat-footed and Callum Robinson was the beneficiary to score their first goal that day. On Saturday he was hardly having his best game and we were treated to another Wilder trick, the early substitution, as Billy Sharp replaced him in the 53rd minute. 

It worked a treat. Like McGoldrick, the captain was vital in dropping deeper to defend and joining Mousset in attack. At 33 years old, Sharp has plenty of miles on the clock and his ageing legs need to be managed - no problem for Wilder. He knows exactly when to use his captain's experience and it showed on Saturday as Sharp helped them manage the second half and leave London with their 13th point of the season.

The only concern among Blades fans will be the growing attention and affection for their manager. Plenty would love him at their club, some tout him as a future England manager and his record speaks for itself.

For now, it's time to enjoy what's been a fantastic week in the Blades' promising start to the season.

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