Sheffield United produced a strong performance in the second half as they blew away mid-table Blackburn Rovers in a stunning 20-minute spell. After both teams were reduced to 10 men, Sheffield United rallied to score three goals in nine second-half minutes to win 3-0 at Bramall Lane.
Forward Thinking Sheffield United
The first 10 minutes fro Sheffield United showed just how direct United were when in possession of the ball. Whenever a Sheffield United defender or midfielder was in possession of the ball, it was sent forward towards the attackers. The passes forward varied from short range through midfield, to long balls hoofed up to the striker Billy Sharp. This put Blackburn Rovers under considerable pressure and pushed Rovers back towards their own 18-yard box.
The image above shows Sheffield United’s intent in the opening 10 minutes John Fleck opts to find his forwards with a longer range pass than to get the ball on the floor and pass the ball through Blackburn with the two highlighted United players in midfield and defence.
As a result of the direct football from Sheffield United, Blackburn Rovers attackers were forced to drop deep and stop pressing the United player on the ball. This allowed the United defenders to have more time on the ball and pick out passes more easily.
The annotated image above shows how Sheffield United’s style of play in the first 10 minutes unsettled Blackburn. The three Blackburn forwards, Ben Brereton, Harrison Reed and Kasey Palmer, can be seen slowing down and not putting on a full press on John Egan who has time to pick a pass either short, towards Oliver Norwood, or longer range passes to the two forwards, Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick.
The statistics back-up how prominent Sheffield United’s tactics were in their victory against Blackburn Rovers. Out of the 355 passes Sheffield United made during the 90 minutes on Saturday, 149 of them were forward passes. During the opening 15 minutes of the game against Rovers, United played 13 long passes forward to their attack.
As well as the passes, the average pass length shows how forward-thinking Sheffield United were. Out of the 90 minutes, United averaged a pass distance of just over 19 metres, with the team averaging a minuscule 3.94 passes per possession of the ball, showing how often the side lost the ball in their attempts to play long ball football.
Despite the smart tactics from Sheffield United to grab control of the game and the ball, Blackburn Rovers were guilty of making crucial mistakes when both teams had gone down to 10 men each, which eventually cost Rovers.
As we have previously mentioned in this piece, Sheffield United’s long balls made Blackburn Rovers more cautious in their attempts to press the United defenders on the ball. In the opening United goal, the Rovers attack can be found guilty of holding too high a line without putting any pressure on.
The high line proved to be not the only mistake for Blackburn Rovers in this goal, as further on multiple Rovers defenders fail to pick up both Sharp and McGoldrick who are afforded too much time and space in the penalty box. As shown in the image below, there are five Rovers players who are attempting to mark/stop the two Sheffield United players. Derrick Williams is the guilty party as he is not goal side to stop McGoldrick from heading the ball to Sharp. Elliott Bennett and Darragh Lenihan are both guilty of ball watching and not getting goal side of Sharp, who is allowed a free run in behind the Rovers defence to slot in for the first goal of the afternoon.
In the build-up to the second goal, Blackburn Rovers attacker Joe Rothwell dived in his attempts to win a penalty. Whilst it may not be a tactical mistake, it shows a huge lack of awareness and shows a huge error in judgement in Rothwell’s mindset in attempting to equalise.
Multiple mistakes are apparent in the third Sheffield United goal, with the first one being Charlie Mulgrew, who is ball watching and, seemingly unaware that Norwood is behind him unmarked about to receive a cross from the left side.
After wriggling free from a weak challenge Fleck runs free to the edge of the six-yard box and is able to pass back for an unmarked McGoldrick, who has at least five yards of space between him and the nearest Blackburn defender.
Sheffield United’s style of play managed to control both the game and Blackburn Rovers. It ensured that United were able to push Blackburn back towards their own penalty area, and allow their players both the time and space. This was apparent in the opening goal where Blackburn didn’t operate a full press, due to fears of the long ball over the top. After that goal had gone in, United were always in control and cruised to victory.
For Blackburn Rovers, the club must ensure that the correct tactics and concentration is adopted moving forward. The game versus Sheffield United showed that they had no plan B to counter United’s direct approach and forward thinking tactics.
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