Championship 2018/19: Preston North End vs Sheffield United


The Championship had an interesting match planned this weekend with Preston North End entertaining Sheffield United. While Preston North End needed the win to have a chance of finishing in a playoff spot, Sheffield United needed the three points to get to a spot that will give them direct promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season. After 90 minutes it was Sheffield United that got away with the three points.

In this tactical analysis, we will look at three tactical trends during this Championship game. We will have a look at Preston North End’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Sheffield United’s 3-4-1-2 and how set pieces were the key for Sheffield United to win in this Championship game.


Preston North End vs Sheffield United

Preston North End’s 4-1-4-1

The home side really needed the win against Sheffield United. They knew that they both needed to attack in order to get three points but also needed to be compact in defence to oust Sheffield United’s attack. They planned to do that with a rather conservative 4-1-4-1 formation.

Preston North End played with a 4-1-4-1 formation with a strong four-man defence consisting of Earl, Davies, Storey and Fisher. These defenders were also the backbone of each attack Preston conducted. In defence, Preston had four defenders and also Pearson came in to strengthen the defence, so in reality, you would have five defenders when Sheffield United were attacking.

Preston North End’s back four strengthened by Pearson

This back four would be assisted by Browne and Ledson tracking back as well. On this occasion, they didn’t really have to because Sheffield United played the ball out, but they were ready to put in their defensive work.

Ledson and Brown track back to assist the defence

In attack, the situation was different regarding the formation. The formation shifted from a 4-1-4-1 formation to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Pearson and Ledson forming a low block behind the three more attacking midfielders consisting of Robinson, Browne and Nmecha.

Ledson and Pearson in the attacking 4-2-3-1 formation

You can also see on the image above that the full backs make runs down the line to support the attack with crosses from the side. Furthermore, the runs from the full backs made it possible for the midfielders to make movements towards the ball or towards goal.

The three attacking midfielders making space for the striker

The three attacking midfielders were standing wide on the pitch which created space from the striker Maguire, who had dropped deep. On this occasion, Maguire wants the ball to be played through in order to create a chance in front of goal, while the attacking midfielders keep the defenders occupied.

Sheffield United’s attacking 3-4-1-2

Sheffield United has been a very decent side in this Championship season and they are battling with Leeds United for the second direct promotion spot. They needed to win at Preston to ensure that they are still in the race for that spot and they sought to do that with an attacking formation.

Despite their 46.3% possession of the ball, the visitors had many numbers in attack. The whole midfield was present in their attacks.

Sheffield United’s four-man midfield in attack

The attacking style of pay that Sheffield United did play meant that their defenders would close the halfway line, but also that their wide-midfielders Baldock and Dowel would make runs down the line, supported by the centre backs.

Full back Baldock crossing the ball into the box

When the visitors went into attack, they went full in. This meant that they would always have around three or four players in the box when delivering the cross from the flanks. In the image below you can see the ball coming into the box, with players ready to attack it in order to get a goal.

There are four Sheffield United players in the box when the cross comes

Set pieces make the difference

The difference between the two sides over the weekend was the fact that Sheffield United created a lot more danger from set pieces than Preston North End did. The home side had one attempt following a set piece, while their opponents had four of their 15 attempts following set pieces. Their attacking style of play forced a lot of corners and they were a threat to be dealt with.

Preston North End expects the Sheffield United players on the edge of the box going straight forward

Sheffield United were expected to go straight towards goal, but two players didn’t do that. Centre-back Egan went to the far post and attempted to put the ball back across goal, while McGoldrick went to the other post anticipating the ball from Egan.

Egan heading the ball towards goal

Egan’s attempt is saved by Preston North End’s Rudd, but the defenders don’t manage to clear it and McGoldrick is quick to finish it off and giving the visitors the 0-1 lead, which was enough for the three points.

McGoldrick scores the 0-1 for Sheffield United

Final thoughts

It was an interesting match in the Championship with a lot of attempts for both sides. The thing that made the difference was the fact that Sheffield United’s players were good at creating chances from set pieces. Ultimately this led to the 0-1 win for Sheffield United to keep their direct promotion dreams alive.