Sheffield United entertained Rotherham United at home in the Championship last weekend. The home team was hoping to get the win to keep their direct promotion teams alive against a relegation-threatened Rotherham side. Sheffield United had a comfortable evening and got a 2-0 victory.

In this tactical analysis, we will look at three tactical trends during this Championship game. We will have a look at how Sheffield United set up in attack, Rotherham’s defence and the decisive set pieces.


Line-ups Sheffield United and Rotherham United

Sheffield United opted for a 3-4-2-1 formation which made their intentions clear. They wanted to attack full on with three attackers backed by a four-man midfield. Rotherham United had a more conservative approach to the game and started with a 4-1-4-1 formation with Ajayi playing between midfield and defence.

Sheffield United’s attack

Sheffield United was dominant as expected and that showed in the percentage of ball possession. They had the ball 72% of the time and they wanted to convert that dominance into goals. They play with a 3-4-2-1 formation which was very offensive.sheffield-united-vs-rotherham-united-tactical-analysis-statistics

Sheffield United’s 3-4-2-1 Sheffield’s three-man defence meant that their approach was attack from the beginning. O’Connell, Egan and Basham formed the back three. The attack was strong because they were backed by a solid four-man midfield with Stevens, Fleck, Norwood and Baldock. The immediate attacking threat was caused by the trio of Duffy, Hogan and McGoldrick. Whenever Sheffield had the ball defenders would close into the midfield and the wide midfielders Stevens and Baldock would make runs down the line.

Sheffield United’s four men midfield

With the wide midfielders making runs down the line, the attacking players made runs into the box. They anticipated crosses from the wide midfielders into the box and they were ready to attack the ball. They stayed together as a group and posed a threat to the Rotherham back four.

Attacking via the flanks, three players in the box

As seen above, there are three players in the box ready to attack the cross that O’Connell will deliver. This was the way most attacks were set up by the home team, as they favoured attacks on the flanks over attacks through the middle.

Rotherham’s defensive approach

Both ends of the table clashed in this match and Rotherham United were battling to stay afloat. That meant they had to have a good defensive display to get a point or more out of this game. Their 4-1-4-1 formation was ready to take on that defensive approach.

Rotherham United’s defensive 4-1-4-1

Rotherham’s defence consisted of four defenders, but when Sheffield United attacked, their defence was strengthened by Ajayi who then played as the fifth defender. That’s how they tried to stop the Sheffield United attack.


Rotherham United’s defence

Ajayi plays in front of the back four as you can see in the image above. Together they make the defence. When Sheffield United goes deeper into Rotherham United’s half, then the guests are supported by the wide midfielders that come in and help the defence.

Rotherham United’s wide midfielders close in

Not only do they close in, but they make two lines of four players, which gives a new formation in defence of 4-5-1, but because Rotherham United got a red card it was a 4-4-1 formation in defence.

Rotherham’s 4-4-1 formation

This defence made it difficult for the hosts to get through, even though Rotherham United went down to ten men. Their defensive organisation was very disciplined.

Sheffield clinical with corners

Sheffield United dominated the game. They had 72% possession of the ball and also in shots, they were superior to their rivals. They managed to produce 19 shots, but only two went in and they were not the result of a swift attack. Sheffield United had trouble with the organised Rotherham defence, but the key to this game was the corners.

Sheffield United profiting from a poorly organised Rotherham United during set pieces

The only thing that could help Sheffield United were the set pieces, especially the corners. Sheffield United had a plan with their corners and they passed the ball low to their teammates, which led to two goals for the hosts. The 2-0 as you can see above, was the result of a short corner and quick passing. In the end, Mark Duffy made it 2-0.

Final thoughts

The difference on the table and on the pitch was big, but Sheffield United couldn’t make the difference on the scoring board with their attacking style of play due to the organised defence by Rotherham United. The set pieces, however, were not as well organised by the guests and in the end, Sheffield United profited off the corners. This resulted in a 2-0 win and they continue their quest for direct promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season.

If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Pre-order your copy of the March issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.