Scout report: How Newcastle can exploit Sheffield United weak links and combat unique tactics
Sheffield United have surprised fans and pundits alike with the big impact they have made on the Premier League this season. They've been ruffling feathers, putting noses out of joint and so far proving to be the antithesis to the big spending, yo-yo clubs like Fulham and Norwich City, who’ve continually struggled to gain a foothold in the top tier.
What’s the Blades’ form like?
Solid, very solid indeed. They've not lost in the league since September's narrow 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Bramall Lane, although, this statistic is a little misleading, given the recent spate of international breaks for Euro 2020 qualification matches.
They have drawn their last three matches on the bounce, which featured a thrilling 3-3 with Manchester United, a 1-1 at Spurs' cavernous new stadium, and last weekend's tight encounter away to Wolves, which also ended 1-1.
The Blades have made a stirring start to the campaign, and have managed to face Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur without being beaten by any of them. However, their current seventh place standing in the division is, arguably, somewhat deceptive, given that their are just five points separating them from 17th place Everton in a tightly-packed table.
Who are the ‘danger men’ Newcastle United need to watch out for?
Many - yours truly included - didn't fancy Lys Mousett to find the searing goalscoring form he has for the Blades since joining from Bournemouth, where his playing time was restricted largely to ineffective cameo appearances. Well, with Chris Wilder's backing he's now rediscovered the form that saw the Cherries splash out around £6 million to secure him from Le Havre back in 2016.
He's scored four and made three assists in his last six matches, and Newcastle's defence will need to mark him relentlessly on Thursday evening.
Oli Norwood is another player who could cause Steve Bruce's side some problems. He's the beating heart of their midfield, and the Magpies' midfield enforcers need to make sure that he's not allowed to run the show with ease.
And what about the manager?
There's a reason why Chris Wilder is being linked with pretty much every 'big' Premier League job going at the moment. Rising through the ranks of lower league football like some kind of managerial Jamie Vardy, the 52-year-old is a man in his coaching prime.
Defying the stereotype of backward-thinking British managers, Wilder is somewhat of a tactical innovator, and has admirably managed to get a top tier tune out of players who've risen from the depths of English football with him.
What is their style of play?
Sheffield United's style of football is, in a word, precise. Every pass looks to have been meticulously crafted by a crack team of football scientists, and they've clearly been relentlessly drilled on the training ground to achieve this high level of discipline and structure.
Then, there's Wilder's trademark 'over-lapping centre-backs' which have had Match of the Day pundits purring throughout the campaign.
As they play three central defenders at the back, it allows one of them to push up into midfield and overload the area during an attack, making the opposition's attempts a pretty unenviable task.
Any weaknesses to exploit?
Those overlapping centre-backs may be effective, but they can also allow Newcastle to play to one their own key strengths - counter-attack. Should the Blades bomb forward, they'll be - to state the obvious - exposed with a man short in defence. That being said, wrestling the ball off their slick midfielders will be a mission.
Wilder's side’s seven minutes of madness against Manchester United - where they shipped three goals in the blink of an eye to throw away a two-goal lead - is also an area where Steve Bruce is likely to be focusing.
The Blades have rarely looked out of control this season, but when things start to unravel, their defence can suddenly become awful panicky, awfully quickly.