Paul Heckingbottom has come under fire a lot ever since the beginning of the season, especially after a winless streak of 10 games. With teams like Burnley and Luton, who were considered strong promotion contenders in the 2022/23 championship season, managing to secure victories in recent weeks, there is a genuine concern that Sheffield, with only 1 point, is likely to return to their previous division over the course of the remaining 28 games in the season.
Facing a Wolves side who despite their rejuvenation lost arguably their most important player in Neto, the hope is Sheffield could try to secure some points on the table as Gary O Neil plans to make the most of other players he has.
The Tactical Facets:
What to expect from Both sides
A) O Neil’s Wolves: A consistent tactical setup is the key and who can take Neto’s place
Pics 1, 2, 3: Wolves approach against Liverpool
Wolves stand out as the most tactically consistent team among those in the bottom 10 places of the league. Gary O’Neil’s approach from the start of this season has revolved around playing variations of the 4-3-3/4-2-2-2 formation, keeping this as the core of the team’s strategy. This approach maximized the effectiveness of the Hwang – Cunha – Neto trio, allowing them to interchange positions both in midfield and as wide wingers. The team’s excellent man-to-man system, as seen in Pic 3, often yielded positive results, especially against teams like Sheffield.
Although Neto will be absent for the upcoming game, the expectation is that the core system will remain largely unchanged. The squad is likely to see only a replacement for Neto, maintaining a similar lineup to the one that faced Newcastle, as we will discuss in the predicted lineups.
Pic 4, 5: Wolves shape after Neto was taken off.
Despite the talk on how O Neil isn’t the usual chop and change coach, he’s been much proven as someone who could adapt according to circumstances and perhaps the final minutes of what transpired after Neto was taken saw Wolves deploy a 5-4-1/5-3-2 shape to accommodate Hwang and Kaladzic together as strike partners, something which can’t be ruled out from O Neil.
In hindsight it’s a good idea to put an ideal target man like Sasa and a more technical forward like Hwang combine centrally to add threat. Sheffield’s defence by far have struggled against strikers like Beto, and Wilson conceding against them all and Gary O Neil would actually rub his hands on trying out this combo.
B) What works (or rather hasn’t) for Sheffield
Pics 6, 7: Sheffield United out of Possession (OOP)
Sheffield United’s defence has obviously been their biggest concern and weakness. With 29 goals conceded, it’s easy enough to say they ‘leak’ goals. Paul Heckingbottom’s preference to sit in a 5-3-2/5-2-3 as we see in pics 6 and 7 above is his go-to preferred system. It’s easy enough for him to say that it’s his only choice given that he inherits a squad that could dominate the championship but incredibly fails the juggernaut threat that Premier League’s quality has to show for.
In some ways, irrespective of the result of how they fare against Wolves, the consensus is that Sheffield are destined for the 2nd tier again, but there’s also hope that they could write a new great escape story if they could get points against Wolves.
Predictions and HTH Records:
Potential Lineups and history between the both coaches
Pic 8: Predicted Lineups
With Neto out of the clash, O Neil’s expected to make some obvious changes though the best expectation is that both Kaladjzic and Sarabia will come in and Hwang will be pushed wide to accommodate a Cunha-Kaladjzic partnership and if needed, Rayan Ait Nouri could start at left-back or Gomes could continue to play the LB Role.
For Sheffield, there aren’t major changes that one can expect and Heckingbottom is likely to roll out a similar lineup that conceded 5 against Arsenal though the hope is they keep Wolves’ attack quiet. The only change that might be predicted is Cameron Archer coming to the lineup.
Given this is the 1st time meeting between both managers, it will be quite an interesting battle between both. This game will represent both a confidence booster for both Wolves and Sheffield to climb the table and also a huge warning shot for Sheffield whose task will only get worse wrt their survival hopes.