Most years, Tottenham Hotspur playing at home to a newly-promoted opponent which hasn’t been in the Premier League since 1994 wouldn’t be a very troubling proposition. This is not most years. Sheffield United has not only acclimated to the Premier League, it’s taken the whole table by surprise. Playing a unique tactical system under respected lower-league manager Chris Wilder, the Blades are sixth in the table after 11 matches, taking 16 points including a win over Arsenal and a draw at Chelsea.
Much has already been written about the 3-5-2 tactic employed by Wilder, a unique tactical system that features overlapping center backs and that has flummoxed even such tactical luminaries as Marcelo Bielsa. Wilder took over at Sheffield in 2017 when they were still in League One, and led them to two promotions in three years. Wilder’s an interesting manager — over 15 years coaching he’s spent the majority of it managing non-league football teams, but has gradually worked his way up the table to the top flight, and is considered a highly respected tactician.
Far from abandoning the tactical system that got him to the Premier League, Sheffield has embraced it and used it to surprise Premier League clubs who haven’t really encountered anything like it before. Sheffield isn’t an offensive juggernaut — they’re 16th in the table in xG — but they have some decent offensive firepower in forwards Lys Mousset and David McGoldrick. Defensively they’ve been rock solid. They’ve only allowed eight goals all season, the joint fewest in the league, significantly outperforming their xGA. The Blades haven’t conceded more than two goals all season, and they have yet to lose away from home, with a win over Everton and draws against Bournemouth, Chelsea, Watford, and West Ham.
This is a team that works hard, outperforms their statistics, and is a dangerous opponent for Tottenham Hotspur. Sheffield doesn’t take many shots, and they’re not the best at converting the ones they do take, but they don’t allow many shots either. Tottenham will have to be clinical and not switch off on defense to avoid a potential upset.
How will Tottenham line up against Sheffield United?
In Belgrade, Mauricio Pochettino finally hit upon a starting XI that looks as though it might actually work. Sure, it was against (really) bad opposition, but the front six that started the match finally included both Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele, which we haven’t really seen all season. And it was great! Too bad we probably won’t see it against the Blades.
Poch has already strongly hinted that Gio might be rested on Saturday, as he probably isn’t fit enough to play significant minutes two times in a week. Erik Lamela and Jan Vertonghen will also miss out as they recover from hamstring issues.
So expect some rotation, but there’s a whole lot of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in this predicted lineup. Harry Kane will start because duh, but with Lamela out it probably means a start for two of Dele, Christian Eriksen, and Lucas. Dele was subbed early against Red Star, and Lucas never saw the pitch at all, meaning both could be moderately fresh if Poch decided to keep Christian on the bench. However, it wouldn’t shock me if we saw Eriksen get the start, playing on the right side or in the center depending on if Dele or Lucas is selected. We also haven’t seen Harry Winks in a while — with Ndombele playing two matches already this week, a return to the Winkssoko pivot is a distinct possibility, though I think Tanguy gets the nod but gets subbed out midway through the second half.
Serge Aurier is still a thing, as is Ben Davies, but wouldn’t it be nice if Juan Foyth got a chance to play against actual Premier League opposition? With Vertonghen injured. it’s probably Alderweireld-Sanchez in the center of defense.
It’s still hard to pick a lineup accurately for this season’s Tottenham. That’s because Poch never picks the same one twice. Here’s my predicted lineup for Tottenham in their match against Sheffield United. What’s yours?