Last-placed Sheffield United hosted 13th-placed West Ham in Sunday’s second Premier League clash. The hosts had the chance to get out of the relegation zone for the first time in the season with a win, while West Ham would jump the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, and Arsenal if they won three points. The Hammers had only lost one of their last six Premier League matches, whereas Sheffield United only had a point from their eight matches. The odds were against them, but the Blades knew that they would have to try and win the match to shake off their case of second season syndrome.
Before we start the analysis, let’s take a quick look at both line-ups.
Sheffield United fielded their familiar 3-5-2 with Aaron Ramsdale in goal. Chris Basham, John Egan, and Ethan Ampadu were the centre-backs, while Chris Basham and Max Lowe were asked to provide width. The midfield was comprised of Sander Berge, Oliver Norwood, and John Fleck. Rhian Brewster missed out in attack, so Oliver McBurnie and David McGoldrick were tasked with getting the goals.
West Ham deployed a three-man defence as well, while Łukasz Fabiański kept his place between the sticks. The back-three included Fabián Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna, and Aaron Cresswell with Vladimír Coufal and Arthur Masuaku operating as wing-backs. Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček were deployed in the middle of the park, as Jarred Bowen and Pablo Fornals provided width in attack. With Michail Antonio out injured, Sébastien Haller was the main man up front.
Sheffield United’s attacks down the right
For most of the first half, Sheffield United were the better side as they threatened West Ham’s goal fairly often. Most of their attacks saw them penetrate the left side of West Ham’s defence.
There were a few variations which allowed this. One of them saw Sander Berge join the attacking line and occupy Aaron Cresswell, leaving George Baldock with Arthur Masuaku. Since the Blades didn’t field any wingers, there was space in the attacking third of the right flank for the wing-back to run into.
Chris Basham, the right centre-back, has a knack of getting forward in attack from time to time, and this helped his side create an overload on the flank in this match.
In transition, the right wing-back wouldn’t be able to get so far forward quickly enough, so one of the strikers (David McGoldrick in this case) would drift out wide to support the attack.
The common theme in all of these attacks is that United looked to exploit the space in behind Arthur Masuaku, West Ham’s left wing-back. They were helped at times by the Congolese international’s eagerness to get forward. In the instance above, he is nowhere near the charging George Baldock after a quick turnover of possession.
Sheffield United were able to pick the lock of West Ham’s defence numerous times and open up large spaces in the attacking third when attacking from the right, but they simply failed to take their chances and ended up paying for that.
West Ham’s defensive shape and press
Sheffield United saw more of the ball in this match, which meant that West Ham had a fair bit of defending to do.
Whenever their defence wasn’t completely breached on the right, West Ham looked to maintain a flat back five in their defensive third as the wing-backs dropped deep, with Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček in front of the defence.
Depending on which side the Blades were pressurising, one winger would drop back to support the defensive effort. In the above example, the left-winger Pablo Fornals has joined the defence.
In the late stages, West Ham were looking to hold on to their lead, so they defended in a disciplined 5-4-1, as is evident above.
Sheffield United didn’t look to play out from the back, so West Ham didn’t have to press too intensely in the final third. There, it was mainly restricted to Sébastien Haller pressuring Aaron Ramsdale.
What they achieved with this, however, was a high chance of regaining possession in space in midfield as Ramsdale was hurried to punt the ball forward without any real direction. Above, you can see how disjointed the United players are as Vladimír Coufal controls the ball.
Sheffield United’s second-half changes
After the hour mark, Chris Wilder made a few attacking changes to his side as they desperately looked for an equaliser.
After Jack Robinson replaced Ethan Ampadu in a like-for-like swap due to an injury concern, Wilder sent Rhian Brewster on to replace Oliver Norwood in the 65th minute – adding a striker in place of a midfielder.
The change saw David McGoldrick drop in between the attacking and midfield lines – looking to find pockets of space in the attacking third, as you can see above.
The extra man at the sharp end also meant that United were much more potent in transition.
Above, you can see how David McGoldrick’s presence has kept Declan Rice busy, opening up a gap for Rhian Brewster to play a through ball into. The other striker, Oliver McBurnie gets on the end of it, but he fails to hit the net yet again.
The final substitution made by Sheffield United saw John Lundstram replace Chris Basham – taking a man out of the defence to add to the midfield.
This meant that the Blades were left with just two at the back. To assist the build-up, either Sander Berge or John Lundstram dropped deep and received the ball, as you can see above.
However, the new formation failed to bring any new opening with it, and Sheffield failed to threaten West Ham’s goal.
Sheffield United look miles off the side we saw last season, as they have just a point from nine Premier League matches and look destined for relegation at this rate. This match did a great job of showcasing the difference a year has made to them, as they would have probably been on the winning side last season, but are now suffering defeat after defeat.
As for West Ham, their strong start to the season continues with another clinical and solid defensive display. Although David Moyes didn’t outclass Chris Wilder tactically, his men clearly looked more confident and organised, which is what made the difference in the end.