Tactics, key men and weak point: Inside track on how Newcastle United can kick-off Premier League restart with victory over Sheffield United
For Sheffield United the Champions League is a very realistic possibility. For Newcastle United it is now distant, fading memories of Milan, Turin, Barcelona, Rotterdam and more.
If the Blades complete an unlikely fifth placed finish on their Premier League return, it could mean their first foray into Europe’s premier competition, with Manchester City’s place – who are set to finish second – very much in limbo.
The Magpies on the other hand, need a couple of wins to ensure they retain their place at England’s top table for another season – and hopefully relegation battles will become a thing of the past with new money waiting in the wings.
While Steve Bruce & Co have been forced to wait until this weekend to get things started in the top flight, Sheffield United started in midweek at Villa Park – and our writer Liam Kennedy watched the Premier League opener with a keen eye. And here he analyses just where the Magpies might get joy and who they need to be wary of, when the Blades come to Tyneside.
Pace & physical approach could see some joy
For half an hour at the start of the Villa game Keinan Davis’ pace, power and unpredictability caused the Sheffield United backline, particularly John Egan, all kind of headaches.
In Allan Saint-Maximin, Joelinton and Miguel Almiron, United have that in abundance.
Andy Carroll bullied them last time out, too. So United have the tools at their disposal to hurt the Blades.
Pressure on Norwood a must
Ollie Norwood was illusive against Villa, dropping between the central defenders to get a grip on play and move the ball right, left and back again.
Popping up in a number of different positions he was the catalyst for Sheffield United on many an occasion – and this is something Almiron must counter.
It would be a big surprise if, on Almiron’s watch, Norwood got the same time allowed to him by Jack Grealish and others this Sunday.
This is Sheffield United, but not as you know it
Wilder has shaped his team in a unique way compared to the Premier League status quo – the same can be said of his side of last season.
An extra line of attack comes from the overlapping and underlapping central defenders who are encouraged to support attacks.
Against Villa that didn’t happen nearly as much as was the case pre-COVID.
Chris Basham was not on the front foot nearly as much as we are used to seeing while Jack Robinson was an able deputy for Jack O’Connell, he lacked the confidence to stride out with it.
Force Blades to go long
If the Magpies can force Sheffield United long, they’re on to a winner.
The last thing Ollie McBurnie and Billy Sharp want is balls up in the air – meat and drink for Jamaal Lascelles and Federico Fernandez.
Villa forced the Blades long early doors in the Midlands but lost their way a little as the game went on, allowing the midfield to establish the pace.
Sheffield United have a much more mobile and energetic midfield engine room than the Magpies, Isaac Hayden aside – Steve Bruce needs to be wary of that.
Overlaps & the left side a worry
The defensive overlaps and underlaps are Sheffield United’s point of difference.
Often when you think you’ve covered all angles, and tied them down when out wide, a central defender can break the line on the inside and put your defensive unit on the back foot. It didn’t happen much for them at Villa Park but I’m sure that’s something Wilder will have worked on this week.
One thing of note from the Villa draw (it should never have been a draw, as we all know) was Enda Stevens on the left.
The delivery from the right at times, particularly in the opening 45, was poor, with crosses often overshooting those waiting in the middle. But the ball was constantly recycled by Irishman Stevens on the left, who took up a very high line when the Blades had the ball. This could well be one for Javier Manquillo and Matt Ritchie/Valentino Lazaro.