The Championship is coming to a close and a win against Ipswich Town would see Sheffield United all but surely clinch direct promotion to the Premier League. For Ipswich Town, the game was not really important as they were already relegated to the League One. But exactly for this reason, Ipswich Town was a big hurdle for Sheffield United to take in their run to leave the Championship for the Premier League. We will explain in this tactical analysis.

In this tactical analysis, we will have a look at three tactical trends during this Championship game. We will look at the formations of both teams, Ipswich Town’s defensive set up and how Sheffield United created goal scoring opportunities.


Sheffield United vs Ipswich Town

Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder has been praised for this three-man defence and he opted for that again when playing against Ipswich Town. His 3-4-1-2 was set out to have an attacking style of play with the four midfielders Enda Stevens, John Fleck, Oliver Norwood and George Baldock to provide coverage going forwards and defensively. David McGoldrick and Scott Hogan were the strikers who were strengthened in the attack by Mark Duffy, who played just behind the two strikers. The 3-4-1-2 formation was kept through the game until the Blades were certain of victory in the 70th minute and they changed to a more defending 5-3-2 formation in the 73rd minute according to statistics by Wyscout.

Ipswich Town were already relegated but weren’t planning to go out without a fight. Paul Lambert’s team originally went out in a 4-4-2 formation which was more of a 5-3-2 formation with Kayden Jackson and Will Keane up top but changed their formation eight minutes into the game. Forced to substitute Keane following an injury, they changed it to a 3-5-1-1 formation with Jackson as the sole striker with Alan Judge playing just behind him. Keane was replaced by Trevoh Chalobah. Ipswich Town had more possession of the ball in this game, but couldn’t capitalise on that possession. In fact, they had to defend quite rigorously.

Ipswich Town defensive set up

Paul Lambert started the game with a 5-3-2 formation against Sheffield United in the team’s last weeks in the Championship, fielded to make a defensive display against the Blades.

Ipswich Town’s 5-3-2 formation

Ipswich Town defended with a five-man defence supported by a three-man midfield, which would drop down in defence as you can see on the image below. The expectation was that Sheffield United would dominate the game and the visitors would need a strong defence. That’s why the midfield trio Judge, Downes and Bishop dropped down.

The three-man midfield drops down in defence

This formation, however, didn’t last long as Ipswich Town had to make a substitution in the 8th minute of the game. Keane had to leave the pitch injured and was replaced by Chalobah. This left Lambert to change the formation as well to keep the balance.

Ipswich Towns 3-5-1-1

The formation changed from 5-3-2 to 3-5-1-1 with Kenlock and Bree going up to the midfield. Judge went on to play behind the striker, while Chalobah came in as a defensive midfielder. In this formation, there were three defenders who would have to make sure that the Sheffield United attack wouldn’t prevail.

The three Ipswich Town defenders trying to stop the Sheffield United attack

The three defenders at the back and five midfielders might seem a bit more attacking than the original formation, but in numbers, it remained the same. In defensive mode, the five midfielders would join the defence when there were threatening situations concerning the Sheffield United attack in this Championship game.

The five midfielders drop down to aid the defence, making it eight defensive players in total

As you can see in the image above, the defence is strengthened with the midfielders. Kenlock and Bree, who were full-backs in the 5-3-2, dropped down and completed the five-man defence when defending.

Sheffield United’s attacking style of play

Chris Wilder has been praised for his attacking style of play with a 3-4-1-2 formation this season in the Championship and he employed the same formation against Ipswich Town

Sheffield United’s 3-4-1-2

Sheffield United’s attacking style of play could be seen in every segment of their team. The attack started from the back with O’Connell and Basham going up to the halfway line. Sheffield United had two options going forward. The first one was to play a pass through the middle to the strikers. When going high up the pitch, the midfield would be split into two segments: Fleck and Norwood were the central midfielders, and Stevens and Baldock would be more forward.

Basham passes the ball to Baldock

The defender would pass the ball to the midfielders, who would distribute it further. In this instance, it was Basham who passed the ball to Baldock.

Baldock wants to reach Hogan and McGoldrick

Baldock tried to reach McGoldrick with this pass, which was one of the ways Sheffield United tried to attack. Another way of attacking was to attack via the flanks. Basham and O’Connell were instrumental to the way Sheffield United attacked in this way via the flanks, which can be illustrated with the following images.

O’Connell assists the attack when Sheffield United are in possession of the ball near the opponent’s goal

The home team had possession of the ball on Ipswich Town’s half, but couldn’t find a way through, through the middle because of the visitors well-organised defence. In that case, the wide centre-backs would make runs down the line, as O’Connell does here.

O’Connell gets into the space to deliver the cross
Hogan scores after a cross by O’Connell.

This also happened with the 1-0. O’Connell was launched into the box and delivered a cross. Three attacking players of Sheffield United were anticipating that cross and eventually, it was Hogan who scored the 1-0.

Diversity in creating goalscoring opportunities

The reason why Sheffield United won the game against Ipswich Town, and many other games this season, can be found in their diversity. They tried to attack from the middle with their quick strikers, but also via the flanks delivering crosses into the box, as you can see on the image below.

Attacking sides Sheffield United. Credit: Wyscout

Not only did they manage to create goalscoring opportunities via the flanks and through the middle, but they also managed to create chances via the set pieces. Sheffield United had three shots on target and one of them was a shot produced as a consequence of a set piece. In this game, Sheffield United had five shots as a consequence of a set piece, and it had its effect in the 70th minute when O’Connell scored the 2-0.

Final thoughts

While relegated Ipswich Town had a rather defensive approach to the game with their 5-3-2 formation, they still had more possession of the ball against Sheffield United. The home team with their 3-4-1-2 formation struggled to create many meaningful chances against that defensive Ipswich Town side, but their diversity in attack meant that they came out victorious in this Championship game. Their win against Ipswich Town and the result of Leeds United – Aston Villa, means that the Blades are once again promoted to the Premier League.