Head Coach analysis: Chris Wilder at Sheffield United


Chris Wilder is a 51-year-old manager from England and is a former professional player with spells at Sheffield United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Rotherham United. Wilder started his managerial career at Alfreton town and won four trophies for the club during his 27 weeks in charge. He then returned to Halifax Town and after 300 games he made his way to Bury as assistant manager.

Northampton Town then appointed the Englishman as a manager in their hopes to get out of the relegation zone of League Two, on which he succeeded and kept them up. He led the side to a mid-table finish in the 2014/15 season and remarkably won the League Two title the following season with 99 points before joining Sheffield United in 2016.

Wilder has had a remarkable season with Sheffield United currently sitting in third place behind Norwich and Leeds and has only lost 39 games out of 143 since joining in May 2016.

In this Head Coach tactical analysis, I will look at the pros and cons of his style of play and will see if he can carry his team to back into the Premier League for the first time since 2007.


Chris Wilder has his side playing in a 3-4-2-1 formation to start with which is a very offensive line-up but works well in the defence as well. He tends to overload the midfield by switching formations to the 3-5-2 when a goal is needed. This tells us that Wilder’s style of football is very offensive and puts the opponents under pressure.

chris wilder sheffield united tactical analysis
Typical Sheffield United line-up

Defensive style

Sheffield United are known to be able to see out a game when they take the lead and it is all down to their transition of formations in-game.

Wilder changes the shape of his side to the 5-3-2 with 3 central defenders and two wing-backs that can go on the counter-attack but more so acts as a fourth and fifth defender by getting behind the ball when the opposition is in possession.

chris wilder sheffield united tactical analysis
Sheffield United’s defensive shape

This works well against both narrow and wide formations as in narrow formations the back five stays compact and against wide formations as the two wing-backs can push out wide to mark the wingers or overlapping full-backs. If more support is needed one of the strikers (usually McGoldrick) drops back into midfield to support the defence as well, leaving the experienced Billy Sharp as the lone striker.

The players adapt very well in the change of formation and Wilder has a clear understanding of what system to use in both attack and defence. The side has kept 44% of clean sheets so far this season with 17 clean sheets in 39 matches which is an improvement from last seasons 22% of clean sheets. This shows that Wilder has his men well drilled in adapting to each formation he wants to play. Below shows the typical formations that United switches to in a game.

chris wilder sheffield united tactical analysis
Typical changes of formation in-game.

Attacking system

In attack, the Blades play in a ‘false five’ system where the two wide centre backs push out towards the wing backs to overload the flanks. This gives them a big advantage with central defenders being able to push forward and attack. Furthermore, this allows the wing backs to make dangerous runs up the pitch and play as wingers, where they can pull the ball back towards the box or cross into the box for a header.

This also forces the opposition’s midfielders to commit out wide to the overload of players on the wings, often leaving gaps through the middle of the park. The image below shows a positional map of Sheffield United central defenders and is no surprise why they have been effective in attack this season when even their centre backs are playing so far up the pitch.

chris wilder sheffield united tactical analysis
Position map of united’s centre backs. Credit – The Star

Chris Wilder’s men have an average of 1.7 goals per game this season and are one of the best teams in The Championship in regard to expected goals with an average of 1.6xGF per game. This doesn’t come across as a surprising statistic with Wilder’s unique style of ‘overloading’ football and having so many players committing in the attack. The chart below shows the average expected goals compared to actual goals scored.

chris wilder sheffield united tactical analysis
Credit – Wyscout

Scoring goals is always easier when having players like Billy Sharp leading the line. The 33-year-old has had a fine season scoring 23 goals, making him the top scorer for the Blades. The former Leeds striker shows his experience in front of goal whether it be cool finishing inside the box or scoring with his head. Sharp likes to drop in as the target man to hold up the ball and slip in the other strikers or wingers and often makes dangerous runs into the box to get on the end of a cross. Although his goal scoring record talks for itself, he has benefited from the fine service of attacking midfielder Oliver Norwood who has been one of United’s best players with eight assists and seven Man of the Match performances this season.

The image below shows a goal scored by Billy sharp laying the ball off and making a run into the box, scoring a header for his team. This pulled one of the opposition’s centre backs out of defence leaving a gap on the right side of the box where Sharp exploited and added another goal to his large amount this season.

chris wilder sheffield united tactical analysis


Chris Wilder has been recently touted as one of the best managers in The Championship having lost only nine games this season. His unique style of play has proven to be effective in the league with a great balance of defensive and attacking football. He certainly has got United fans excited for the future in the hopes that he can take his side back to the top tier of English football. Coming towards the end of the season it is getting tight at the top with Norwich and Leeds slightly above in the table. Wilder has got the fans believing again, but who will take the crown in the end?