Sheffield United were looking to maintain their wonderful start to the 2019/20 Premier League when they came up against Aston Villa at Bramall Lane. Sheffield United were looking to jump back into 5th on the back of an excellent 2-1 away win at Norwich City. The blades have been one of the most impressive teams in the division thus far and were looking to maintain their remarkable start. Aston Villa had were coming off the back of a disappointing 4-1 loss at home to Leicester City. Villa have had a mixed bag so far this season. Impressive results such as the 2-2 away draw at Old Trafford against Manchester United and the 5-1 away win at Norwich City have shown what they can do with the attacking talent they possess. However, their ability to lack consistency and at times overly attacking football have meant they are 17th in the table. An interesting clash between the two promoted teams was on the horizon.

The Blades eventually ran out 2-0 winners in the match. John Fleck got both goals which secured the win for United, whilst Jack Grealish missed a penalty for Villa. The win moved Sheffield United back into 5th place. Villa, on the other hand, suffered their tenth defeat of the season and have lost three games in a row. With favourable games coming up against the likes of Southampton they will be looking to bounce back. As for Sheffield United, they continue to impress and will be looking to continue their phenomenal form.

This tactical analysis will attempt to highlight the tactics used by both teams and the ways in which they attempted to win the match. This analysis will also look to highlight the ways in which both teams can improve going forward and trying to achieve their respective targets.


Sheffield United operated in a 5-3-2 formation. Dean Henderson started between the sticks. Chris Basham, Jack O’Connell and John Egan were the back three. They looked to play their usual game by overlapping and providing passing lanes. George Baldock and Enda Stevens were the two full-backs, looking to provide width going forward. John Fleck, John Lundstram and Ollie Norwood were the midfield three. Their energy and ability to find passes into the strikers would be key. David McGoldrick and Lys Mousset were the front two. They would be the main goal threat for the blades.

As for Aston Villa they lined up in their usual 4-3-3 formation. Tom Heaton started between the sticks. Björn Engels and Kortney Hause were the two centre backs, looking to provide defensive solidarity. Frédéric Guilbert and Matt Targett were the two full-backs who looked to provide attacking support when possible. Marvelous Nakamba, John McGinn and Henri Lansbury were the midfield three. They looked to provide midfield stability as well as the attacking support that the front three needed. As for the front three it was made up of Jack Grealish, Wesley Moraes and Anwar El Ghazi. They were Villa’s biggest threat going forward and looked to create as many goal-scoring opportunities as possible.

Premier league 2019/20: Sheffield United Vs Aston Villa- Tactical analysis tactics
The Lineups of both teams.

Overlapping Centre Backs:

An interesting development that occurred in the game was the overlapping nature of the Sheffield United centre backs. This is something that Chris Wilder has implemented into the side since becoming manager. The tactic involves one of the centre backs making an overlapping run on the outside of the wing-back in order to provide attacking support. Chris Basham and John Egan are the ones that make these runs. This is a unique tactic specifically to Sheffield United and allows different avenues of attacking play. In Chris Basham they had someone who knows the way that Chris Wilder wants his centre backs to attack and as a result he has the ability to get forward at a more regular rate. Below is a great example of this. Stevens has the ball in the wing-back position and Basham makes an excellent overlapping run in order to get into space. This was effective as it caused confusion in the Villa backline.

Premier league 2019/20: Sheffield United Vs Aston Villa- Tactical analysis tactics
An example of the overlapping nature of the Sheffield United Centre Backs.

This was seen throughout the majority of the first half. Furthermore, it is something that The Blades operated with mainly from the left side. This was mainly to exploit Guilbert and his lack of pace. Therefore, by having multiple options on one side of the pitch meant he would not be allowed to go forward and this nullified Villa’s full backs from getting forward. Below is another excellent example of this. Basham makes an excellent overlapping run once again in order to provide more attacking support. This was important in terms of the attacking avenues Sheffield United were looking to create.

Premier league 2019/20: Sheffield United Vs Aston Villa- Tactical analysis tactics
Another excellent example of Basham making an overlapping run.

Jack Grealish

Jack Grealish has been by far one of Villa’s best players this season. His role in the Villa side cannot be underestimated and he has rightfully earned his spot as Captain. He is the most fouled player in the premier league which highlights the route that teams take to stop him. In a lot of the games he has played this season when he is playing in the front three as a left winger the role he takes will be to come inside and take positions in the centre left area of the attacking third. By getting in these positions he can use his technical ability and cut onto his right foot to create chances. This can be seen by the goal he scored at Old Trafford. Below is the average position map of the Aston Villa players in the game on Sunday. Grealish is represented by the number ten circle. We can see that he is extremely narrow and close with Wesley the central striker.

Premier league 2019/20: Sheffield United Vs Aston Villa- Tactical analysis tactics
The average positioning of the Aston Villa players highlighting Grealish’s narrow positioning.

Furthermore, this was seen right throughout the match. Grealish was central in his positioning and essentially drifted into the number ten position. By coming into a more central position it essentially meant that Grealish was central in threading passes through into El Ghazi and Wesley. It would be a waste of his excellent technical ability to force him wide. Coming into more narrow positions means that his influence on a game is more frequent. Below is an example on this. Villa are in an attacking transition and have the ball on the right side of the pitch. Grealish therefore comes into a central based position to receive the ball and attempt to play a pass through into the attacking areas. This highlights why Grealish is more effective in central based positions.

Premier league 2019/20: Sheffield United Vs Aston Villa- Tactical analysis tactics
This image highlights how Grealish is much more effective when he operates in the central left position of the pitch.

Grealish has been exemplified as someone who could potentially get an England call up if current form continues. His name has also been linked with clubs such as Manchester United in order to fix their creativity issue. This therefore highlights how effective his output has been. In certain games he will play in the midfield three alongside John McGinn who will give him the license to go forward. This may be a more effective use of his talents. In this game he often got into effective areas, however, it is much more useful to have him in the centre of the pitch and other wingers on the left side instead. Below is another example of how Grealish is effective in the central left area of the pitch. He is instrumental in the build-up play for the chance created in the image below. This therefore once again highlights that going forward Grealish would be much more effective playing in the central left area of the midfield three.

Premier league 2019/20: Sheffield United Vs Aston Villa- Tactical analysis tactics
This once again highlights how Grealish is more effective in the central left area of the pitch.

Sheffield United’s strikers

Another interesting development in the game was the role of both Sheffield United’s central strikers. Their role was very simple, occupy the two central defenders and cause problems for them. Villa have been increasingly poor in the centre of the defence and without Tyrone Mings who is missing through injury they are even worse off. With the impressive scoring rate of both Sheffield United’s central strikers it posed an even bigger threat to Villa. They were constantly putting pressure on the Villa backline and would not let them have a second to play out and have time on the ball. This was in two aspects, off and on the ball.

Firstly, it is important to look at their involvement off the ball. They were constantly pressing the two centre backs and not allowing them any space when they were coming out with the ball. Furthermore, it was important that they maintained this in order to prevent any involvement with the build-up play. Below is an example of this pressing. It further highlights the role in which they had to prevent Villa’s build-up play.

Premier league 2019/20: Sheffield United Vs Aston Villa- Tactical analysis tactics
Sheffield United’s strikers had a vital role to play in pressing the opposing centre halves.

The other aspect of David McGoldrick and Lys Mousset’s game was their role on the ball. They were key in occupying Villa’s centre-halves in terms of when Sheffield United were in possession of the ball. Once again, there role was to back into the defenders and put them under constant pressure when in possession. This not only allowed them the option to go long but it also meant that they were able to have more chances. Below is an example of this. Sheffield United have possession of the ball and we can see the positioning of both strikers in occupying both central defenders. They are behind the midfield lines and just in front of the back four which causes problems as to who to mark.

Premier league 2019/20: Sheffield United Vs Aston Villa- Tactical analysis tactics
Another example of the strikers of Sheffield United and their role when Sheffield United had possession.

Sheffield United’s central midfield

The first half was frustrating for Sheffield United. They were unable to break through the midfield line and create opportunities on goal. John Fleck however, was instrumental in the second half at pushing them forward and getting in behind the villa defensive line. The second half brought about a structural change in the way they attacked. The centre of midfield enjoyed getting forward more and more importantly getting in behind. Below is the goal that John Fleck scored to make it 1-0. He makes an excellent run in behind which is found by an excellent pass in behind from a horizontal angle. This therefore highlights the change in the second half and how the midfielders were able to get forward at a more consistent rate.

Premier league 2019/20: Sheffield United Vs Aston Villa- Tactical analysis tactics
The second half saw the Sheffield United midfielders getting in behind the defensive line.

It was not just Fleck who was making excellent runs in behind. The likes of Lundstrum were getting forward by making lung-busting runs Into the Villa attacking third. This was a common pattern throughout the second half and it highlights why Sheffield United had more joy going forward. Below is another perfect example of this. The ball is on the left side of the pitch and Lundstrum makes an excellent run moving through the lines in transition. This was common throughout the second half and further highlights why the tactic was effective.

Premier league 2019/20: Sheffield United Vs Aston Villa- Tactical analysis tactics
An excellent example of the Sheffield United midfielders getting foward into the Villa half.


To conclude, it was an interesting sceptical between the two promoted sides. Sheffield United will be happy with the way they were able to make tactical tweaks in order to break down the Villa defence. They have maintained an excellent league campaign so far and another win at home maintains this. Villa on the other hand will be overall disappointed with the result however will take the positives of what was not their worst performance of the season. Jack Grealish missed a penalty at 2-0 which could have got them back in the game. Despite the result it is a results business and these need to improve. Overall it is evident that both teams are on to achieve successful seasons, especially in the case of Sheffield United who have surprised almost everyone with their performance.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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