Chris Wilder Confesses Soft Spot for Villa, While Dean Smith Ponders Further Midfield Rotation

Sheffield Utd vs Aston Villa

By Dean Gregory

Yet another defensive masterclass from Dean Smith’s men saw Villa leave Elland Road with all three points against Leeds United, which keeps them in ninth place four points off the top six, with at least a game in hand over all of the teams above them.

Sheffield Utd’s torrid season has left them rooted firmly to the bottom of the table with 11 points and three wins all season. 15 points separates them from the promised land of 17th, surely an insurmountable points difference at this stage of the season.

League Form

Sheffield Utd – W L L L L

Aston Villa – L W D L W

Manager Quotes

Chris Wilder on Villa and Grealish

“I think they’re huge and I think only people in football realise how big they are.

“But I’m delighted for Dean and Jack (Grealish); for them to be in the Premier League with their home town club, it’s a connection like between me and Billy Sharp. They have given it a right go and, if someone’s watch was turned on, something else might have happened. But, they have built from that and are having a fabulous season.

“I also hope Jack Grealish doesn’t play (tomorrow). Have another day off Jack, and return at the weekend because I think he is the best player in England.”

“(Villa) signed good players last year and had great players in the Championship under Steve Bruce and got to a play-off final then got promoted through Dean and had a brilliant run at the end, I had a soft spot for them.”

Dean Smith on Sheffield Utd

“They’re still fighting and they won’t believe they’re down yet, but it’s looking hard for them. They’ve had some key players out. Dean Henderson, the goalkeeper, left, Jack O’Connell’s been out most of the season, so they’ve lost some key players at key times.

“We’ve been through that ourselves last year, losing John McGinn, Wesley and Tom Heaton. It’s very difficult to be really good competitors in this league when you’ve lost key players.

“I’ve known Chris (Wilder) for a long time and I don’t doubt their professionalism and pride in every game that they play. Knowing Chris as I do, they will be ready for every game.”

On Jacob Ramsey, and midfield depth

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in him, but more importantly his peers have as well – the lads who he trains with every single day.

“They can see that he’s ready to play first team football. I had a decision to make when I decided to leave Ross and Douglas out of the team whether I went with Morgan or Jacob.

“I just felt the Leeds game would be more of a game for Jacob to start in. I’m pleased that I’ve got the options to choose between Jacob, Morgan, Douglas, Marvelous Nakamba, John McGinn, Ross Barkley – it’s a real good, competitive area of the pitch for us at the moment.”

Tactical Analysis

Sheffield use a 3-5-2 formation with Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick partnering up front, John Lundstram, Ollie Norwood and John Fleck in the middle, a back three of Chris Basham, John Egan and Ethan Ampadu. George Baldock and Enda Stevens play as wingbacks.

They are a team that has always played on the back foot in the Premier League; it was a style that brought them some success last season. 43.1% possession and 76.7% successful passes, 15% of which are played long, shows they have continued in that vein this season too.

They have conceded 43 goals from 43.89 xGA – this implies that their ability to defend is not bad in reality, but the amount of chances they concede by playing the way they do takes its toll and they struggle to cope. 30 of those goals have come from open play, with them allowing a total of 242 shots so far this season. It hardly matters how well a team can defend if they have to spend so much of their time doing it.

15 goals from 25.73 xG paints a picture of the real problem they have. They struggle to get forward and they have little in the way of goal threat when they do. They manage 8.7 shots per game while conceding 13.3 – there is little wonder why they are under pressure.

There is no doubt about it, Sheffield Utd have a mountain to climb if they are to survive another season in the Premier League. They must find a way to be more clinical, before time runs out.

One to Watch

Striker David McGoldrick carries the bulk of Sheffield’s goal threat, with five goals and one assist to his name this season. He manages 1.6 shots and completes a dribble per game. If anyone is likely to breach Villa’s defense in this team, it would be him.

Memory Match

Sheffield Utd 1-2 Aston Villa – 16-04-1994

Two quickfire goals from Kevin Richardson and Graham Fenton decided the game in Villa’s favour. This was the last time Villa beat Sheffield Utd away in the Premier League.

Previous Result

Aston Villa 1-0 Sheffield Utd

Ezri Konsa finally managed to break down a resolute Sheffield side in a cagey match to start Villa’s season. The visitors went down to ten men in the 12th minute when John Egan pulled Ollie Watkins back after letting him through on goal. After that they bedded in for a draw. It was not easy for Villa, who needed Emi Martinez to pull off a penalty save on his debut to secure the win.

How it could play out

What has happened to Sheffield Utd? They looked like a solid team that could cause a headache for just about anyone in the league last season, but they have failed to carry that into this season in spectacular fashion. While predicting a drop off was not an unpopular opinion, the extent to which they have collapsed could not have been predicted by anyone.

Sitting deep, absorbing pressure and nicking wins on the break was an effective strategy for them last season, but this season they have not maintained the defensive solidity to repeat that success. This is despite their once innovative system remaining in place, suggesting their problem is either one of personnel or they have simply been found out.

In theory then, this should be an comfortable win for Villa, even with Jack Grealish ruled out for this match as well. Villa looked solid and competent going forward against Leeds, a team who are much tougher to deal with over 90 minutes.

Smith showed he is not adverse to shaking things up if they clearly aren’t working when he dropped Luiz and Barkley, giving starts to Ramsey and Nakamba. Will they retain their places in the next match or will Smith show faith in Luiz and Barkley again for this one? There is a lot to be said for a more attack-minded midfield this time around, with the likelihood of defensive solidity not being nearly as necessary.

Losing Grealish is obviously a massive blow, but the team proved they are not hapless and lost without him. Villa has a team now, for the first time in a while, and it was nice to be able to see solid evidence of that.


Sheffield Utd 0-1 Aston Villa

Sheffield may be struggling but they do not tend to get blown away either. They will not make it easy for Villa, but Villa’s much superior defence will prove too big a challenge for them to overcome, while Villa’s persistence going forward should see them through.

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