Premier League 2019/20: Brighton vs Sheffield United – tactical analysis


Most countries do have a break over the festive period, but this is not applicable to English football! In the Premier League, there is plenty of football to be seen and in the last weekend, Brighton entertained Sheffield United at the AMEX. This tactical analysis will show how the two sides faired in this Premier League match, with a closer look at the tactics.

Both Brighton and Sheffield United are having quite the season, in a positive manner. Brighton barely survived at the end of last season and are building with Graham Potter towards a more stable future in the Premier League. Sheffield United have a different outlook because they are a newly promoted side. They are doing excellent and currently sitting on the places that will grant European football at the end of the season.

This proved to be a feisty battle between two teams trying to improve their status. In this tactical analysis, we will look at three tactical trends. First, we will look at the build-up by Brighton, followed by the defensive set up of Sheffield United. Lastly, we will look at the passing style of play from the midfield with a central role for Oliver Norwood.


Line-ups Brighton vs Sheffield United. Credit: Wyscout.

Brighton’s Graham Potter fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation in the game against Sheffield United. The midfield consisted of an attacking trio with Leandro Trossard, Pascal Gross and Aaron Mooy. Just behind that attacking trio, Brighton had a double pivot with Davy Pröpper and Dale Stephens. Potter changed the formation to 4-5-1 after 27 minutes and started the second half with a 4-3-1-2, which was the formation the Seagulls had until the end of the game.

Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder employed a 3-5-2 formation with two changes in comparison with their previous game. Luke Freeman played instead of John Fleck, who was suspended. Up top, there was a spot for Oli McBurnie in place of Lys Mousset. The characteristic five-man midfield of Baldock-Lundstram-Norwood-Freeman-Stevens was the soul of this formation until the 53rd minute. After that minute the formation changed into a 5-3-2 formation.

Brighton’s build-up with their 4-2-3-1

Brighton started a back-four consisting of two centre-backs and two full-backs. The two centre-backs were Lewis Dunk and Aaron Webster, the two full-backs were Dan Burn and Martin Montoya. With these four players and the goalkeeper, the build-up started.

With the central defenders in possession of the ball, two particular things happened on the pitch. The first thing that happened was that the full-backs went wide and moved up on the pitch. This was done to make themselves available for passing and to progress the build. The position of the full-backs can be seen in the image below.

The central defenders pass the ball to the full-backs who have gone wide. As soon as they have the ball, they move up on the pitch. Credit: Wyscout.

The second way that the ball was moved forward in the build-up was in the way the defensive block dropped down and assisted the central defenders. While the full-backs assumed their position higher on their own half,  Pröpper or Stephens would drop and made themselves available for the pass from either central defender.

In the image below you can see how Pröpper and Stephens drop down and makes himself available for the pass and progress.

The double-pivot of Pröpper and Stephens drop down to assist the central defenders. Credit: Wyscout.

In the image above, they both dropped down and make themselves available to receive the pass, but the option of the long ball to the full-back Montoya is chosen. The double-pivot instantly moves forward and makes themselves available again, as can be seen in the image below.

Stephens and Pröpper move up and Montoya delivers the ball to Pröpper who opts for the long ball. Credit: Wyscout.

Brighton often opted to play the ball to the defensive block, be it from the central defenders or from the full-backs. The difference was the position. When the central defender passed the ball to either Pröpper or Stephens, the defensive midfielders would move forward and then look for an option to pass. When the full-backs delivered the ball to the defensive midfielders, the latter would be in a higher position and could deliver the ball to the final third.

If we look at the numbers, in this tactical analysis, both defensive midfielders have great statistics in passes to the final third. Pröpper has 7 passes to the final third with 6 reaching his teammate, which is a pass completion of 86%. Stephens had 12 passes to the final third with 9 reaching a teammate, which is a pass completion of 75%.

Sheffield United’s defensive set-up

As said above, Sheffield United employed a 3-5-2 formation with Oliver Norwood as the most defensive midfielder in that five-man midfield. In this part of the analysis, we look at how Sheffield United stood in the defensive phase of the play.

In the first 53 minutes of the game, Sheffield United played with three at the back: O’Connell, Egan and Basham. Just in front of them, Oliver Norwood played the more defensive midfield role. This can be seen in the image below.

Sheffield United’s back-three. When Sheffield United were in the defensive phase of the play, wing-backs Stevens and Baldock would drop down as well. Credit: Wyscout.

In the defensive phase, the three-man defence was always supported by the midfield. As soon as Brighton moved forward with their attacking players, Sheffield United midfielders would assist the defence in numbers, so that the Brighton players were surrounded. This can be seen in the image below.

Four midfielders of Sheffield United trail back in order to assist the three-man defence when Brighton attack, in the first half. Credit: Wyscout.

The numbers stopped Brighton in their attack, as you can see there is 3v2 situation which would become a 7v2 situation. It was impossible for Brighton to break through and that was exactly how Sheffield United stopped the build-up.  The balls from Pröpper and Stephens did reach the attacking players, but they had to deal with so many players, that they were quite ineffective.

In the 53rd minute, Wilder changed the formation from 3-5-2 to 5-3-2. This meant that Baldock and Stevens joined the defence and a five-man defence was formed. This was needed as Brighton started to conduct more and more attacks, forcing Sheffield United to defend more. This can be seen in the image below.

Attacks per minute Brighton and Sheffield United. Credit: Wyscout.

Brighton went form 0,33 attacks per minute to 0,70 attacks per minute so Sheffield United needed to adapt to that. They formed a five-man defence as mentioned above and they would be assisted by a three-man midfield. In the image below you can see how this looked from the 53rd minute and up.

Sheffield United five-man defence and three-man midfield in the transition from attack to defence. Credit: Wyscout.

In the image above you can see that Brighton attacked with more players than they did with the build-up in the first half. They come forward with five players and Sheffield United needed the five-man defence with the three midfielders to stop them. The 5-3-2 formation meant that they would have an 8v5 situation, which secured defensive superiority over the Brighton attack.

Sheffield’s Finest: Lundstram

Sheffield United was victorious and claimed a 0-1 win in this game against Brighton. A vital win, because they remain at one of the spots from European football. If we look at the attacking numbers, there are a few interesting things to conclude. For example, Sheffield United had 22 attacks during this game, of which 6 ended with a shot. In the image below you can see how the threat of those attacks were constructed in this game against Brighton.

Danger level Sheffield United with expected goals of the attacks by flanks. Credit: Wyscout.

If we look at the image above we can conclude that the most threat came from the middle, as 84% of the xG came from attack from the middle. Instrumental in those attacks from the middle was Lundstram – who played on the midfield.

The midfielder had impressive passing statistics going forward. In this game against Brighton, he had 24 passes of which 20 passes reached a teammate (83% pass completion). If we look closer at the attacking stats we can conclude the following:  13 of 14 passes on Brighton’s half were completed and he had an impact on the attacking style of play with his positioning.

In the image below you can see how his positioning imposed a threat to the Brighton defence.

Lundstram has plenty of options going forward and can orchestrate attacks from his position. Credit: Wyscout.

From Lundstram position he can distribute the ball to several players who are further up on Brighton’s half.  Not only is he playing in midfield, but he can also move up with the ball and create opportunities from his positioning, as he draws Brighton’s defensive players to him. His style of play was of big threat to the opposition.


Brighton had an interesting build-up from the back where the central defenders played the ball to the full-backs or the dropping defensive midfielders. The latter were instrumental in progressing the ball to the attacking players on the midfield and the striker position, but the defending in numbers of Sheffield United made sure that they did not concede.

Sheffield United won this game by employing a good defensive set up and were dangerous with their attacks through the involvement of Lundstram, who’s positioning meant that they could be dangerous at each attack. In the end, it were the visitors who went home with a very important three points, as this tactical analysis has shown.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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