Sheffield United faced Fulham in the Premier League for the first time in 12 seasons, with both sides winning their respective home games in the previous meetings between them in the 2006-07 campaign. Fulham won both league meetings with Sheffield United the last time the sides faced in the 2017-18 Championship. Sheffield United hosted Fulham at Bramall Lane and were looking to put an end to their losing streak against the promoted side, Fulham. Blades have lost their last seven Premier League games, they’ve never lost eight league games in a row in their history. Sheffield United after an impressive season finishing ninth have struggled to earn a point so far this season. In addition, Fulham have struggled to earn a point in the top flight after gaining promotion.
A missed Aleksandar Mitrović penalty, Ademola Lookman header taking the lead for Fulham, and Billy Sharp equalising from the spot with the match ending in a 1-1 draw. A frustrating outing for both teams and they have to look into areas for improvements. Blades will consider themselves fortunate enough to escape with a draw, they had the better of the first half but could not break the deadlock. The tactical analysis of this game covers the tactics of the Sheffield United build-up and their defensive strategies. Also, we will be highlighting the analysis of Fulham’s approach in this game.

Lineups

Chris Wilder made three changes from the team that started the defeat at Arsenal prior to the break as Max Lowe, Oliver Norwood, and Oli McBurnie come into the side. Club-record signing Rhian Brewster was named on the bench. John Egan was cleared to play for Sheffield United and took the captain’s armband. Scot Parker handed first starts to three players who have represented England at different levels. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, on loan from Chelsea, and defender Tosin Adarabioyo, signed from Manchester City, made their debuts, but it was Lookman who almost stole the show, who was also impressive as a substitute against Wolves and earned a start here.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics

Blades movement and 3-5-2 attacking shape

John Egan, Enda Stevens, Chris Basham formed the back three for Blades, but a 19th minute injury to the wing-back Max Lowe made changes in the back three. Stevens then played the role of wing-back and Jack Robinson coming in as a substitute occupied the left centre-back position. Either of the three central midfielders John Lundstram, Sander Berge, Oliver Norwood dropped as a pivot to support the defence in the build-up. Oliver McBurnie stayed higher up the pitch and played the role of a typical poacher with David McGoldrick dropping to take away opposing defenders with him and create space in the centre. Switching positions and movements were the keys to Blades’s attack to unlock Fulham’s defence.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics
Here, McGoldrick has dropped to the flanks from the forward position in the process of movements & swapping of position with other teammates in order to support the build-up starting from three at the back. Lundstram has dropped to be a pivot in the centre to support the play.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics
Again, three men at back starting the play with Norwood (in possession of the ball)  dropping as a pivot to spread the play forward. Wing-backs were spread wide in order to stretch play and create space in the centre. The other two central midfielders, Berge and Lundstram are equidistant from Norwood and made movements to create space to receive the ball.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics
The cross from Chris Basham should have been at the far end towards Lundstram who was free, unmarked, and in plenty of space. Here Sheffield United lacked awareness and failed the opportunity to take an early lead. The cross was at the nearest player, Oliver McBurnie. It was at a difficult angle for him and headed wide from the far post.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tacticsAina went out of position towards the centre in order to win the ball before McGoldrick but he was beaten with a one-touch pass to Lundstram, who wasted no time in seizing the opportunity of a vacant area on the left as Aina is out of position. Stevens had the opportunity to create something on this counter but his shot lacked power and was low and straight at the keeper. He also had the option to square it to the Blades’ striker, McBurnie. Another big opportunity missed taking the lead due to a lack of quality in the final third.

Systematic 5-3-2 defending with counter-pressing 

George Baldock and Stevens, playing as wing-backs, switched during their defensive role to support the central back three in a three-man defence. Sheffield United played a high line and they pressed higher up the pitch to gain possession in the attacking half and attack quickly, committing men in numbers. They did counter-pressing whenever Fulham played short during their buildup. Sheffield defended in a systematic 5-3-2 shape when the attacking team was into their half and when Fulham’s keeper played long, or they somehow managed to escape counter-pressing.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics
Baldock and Stevens had dropped, forming five at the back for Sheffield. The centre looked compact, nullifying anything from the opposition through the centre. This highlights the well-organised defensive structure of Chris Wilder’s side.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tacticsPremier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics
Blades have kept a similar defensive shape in the second half too. They were sitting back deep and avoiding any entry from the centre, either forcing Fulham’s players for the long ball or crossing from the flanks. However, Baldock and Stevens looked to close down whenever Fulham’s wingers tried crossing the ball but they struggled on a few occasions.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tacticsAnother defensive strategy of Chris Wilder was to do counter-pressing higher up the pitch in the opponent’s half. With McBurnie, Baldock, Berge, Lundstram, McGoldrick pressing on their respective nearest Fulham player and forcing the opposition to go back towards the keeper. They looked to win the ball higher up the pitch and punish quickly on the counter. The tactic was to put pressure and take the opportunity of catching Fulham’s defence out of position.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tacticsAnother event from the second half of man-to-man counter-pressing from Sheffield players. Here, McBurnie is blocking in an angle to nullify a back pass from Aina towards Adarabioyo, and the rest of Sheffield players are pressing on their respective nearest Fulham player.

Fulham’s 3-2-4-1 attack shape

It looked 4-2-3-1 on the sheet but Parker played with a 3-2-4-1 formation during the build-up. Ola Aina, Tosin Adarabioyo, and Tim Ream formed three at the back, with Zambo-Anguissa and Tom Cairney dropping as a pivot and playing parallel to each other. Antonee Robinson played higher up the pitch on the left flank and dropped to left-back position when defending. He was the one who covered the entire left flank. Loftus-Cheek and Lookman played a free role in the advance attacking midfield position and behind the striker, Mitrovic. Cavaleiro played in the right-wing position.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics
Aina, Adarabioyo, and Ream were playing in a three-man defence. Zambo-Anguissa and Cairney were playing deep and together, above them, you have Lookman and Loftus-Cheek in attacking left and right midfield position respectively. Mitrović was the lone striker. Robinson and Cavaleiro were covering wide areas. This was Fulham’s shape while building an attack against Sheffield United’s counter-pressing and high line.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics
Cavaleiro should have come up with a better ball here. He had both Mitrović and Lookman free, with free space and scope of the open post with the keeper guarding the near post. A perfect low cross would have resulted in an easy tap in for either player. Both defenders went on to chase Cavaleiro. Egan should have gone towards chasing or marking Mitrović . With both chasing him, Sheffield United’s defence was caught out of position but yet Fulham missed on the opportunity due to excellent recovering from Jack Robinson
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics
There was a huge gap between the two defenders and he takes the advantage to exploit and punish Sheffield here. His awareness allows him to get into the box and into an area that is away from the crowd. He gets past two defenders with his skill and gets in a free position and finishes with his right foot to give Fulham the lead. Baldock and Basham left a big gap between them compared to the rest of the defensive line. Baldock was pulled wide by Robinson who was waiting to receive and cross in the box. Caught between the two, Baldock was late to react to the Lookman’s run in the box.

Fulham’s 5-4-1 defending

Robinson and Cavaleiro dropped deep or would immediately fall back when Sheffield United had possession to support the defensive three and forming five at the back. They defended in their zones and nullified any attack from the centre. Parker looked to gain possession in the centre of the pitch and attack quickly through wide areas to cross towards in the box for Mitrović.  Aina sat back in the defence and only Robinson played higher up the pitch (left flank) among the two full-backs.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics
This shows Parker’s five at the back defence structure. Robinson and Cavaleiro have dropped deep and formed five at the back in defence. There is another level of four in the midfield above them. Mitrović didn’t drop and makes runs when Fulham wins the possession.
Premier League 2020/21: Sheffield United vs Fulham - tactical analysis tactics
The same structure can be seen in the second half. Fulham sat deep, with Mitrović staying higher up the pitch. They keep a man short while defending but want to trigger the opportunity of counter-attacking Sheffield United with long balls towards Mitrović .

Conclusion

Sheffield United was better in the first half but failed to convert opportunities due to a lack of quality in the final third. Their performance depleted in the second half and Fulham looked a better side. Fulham’s new addition to the starting 11 looks impressive and it looks with time that this squad will adjust in the Premier League and improve results from here. Both teams looked solid and composed in defence and need work in their attacking tactics. This analysis clearly indicates the need for quality in the attacking third for both teams.