Talking Tactics | Swansea City v Sheffield United

13th September 2022
First team
Nathan Wood in the third kit

After seeing their weekend meeting with Birmingham postponed following the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Swansea City are back in action tonight as they welcome league leaders Sheffield United to the Stadium.

Here, preview the action, looking at what to expect from the Blades, a key battle and a key stat.

What to expect from Sheffield United

Paul Heckingbottom

Having fallen at the semi-final hurdle in the play-offs last tern, Sheffield United have wasted no time in living up to expectations of another promotion challenge this time around.

The Blades stuttered initially this season, winning one of their opening three games, but come into the midweek trip to Swansea top of the table having picked up 17 points from their opening eight league matches.

Paul Heckingbottom has done a fine job as head coach since his appointment last November, with the Sheffield United boss, like so many others in the Championship, favouring a three-man defence.

Oliver Norwood is the key instigator in the middle of the park, and with Sander Berge alongside the 31-year-old, he is able to maximise the creative side to his game for the benefit of the Blades.

Sheffield United have developed a statistically calculated strength of 'creating scoring chances', with Norwood vital for that. Indeed a return of 2.3 key passes per game ranks ninth in the Championship this season, and the system evidently plays to his strengths with Norwood the second best-rated player in the division having yielded a rating of 7.70.

As such, the Blades do favour playing through the middle, with 25% of their attacks coming in the centre of the pitch, the fourth-highest such ratio in the Championship. That means that while teams who use a three-man backline tend to utilise wing-backs as attacking weapons, Sheffield United instead use them to help provide greater defensive protection.

For example, left wing-back Max Lowe ranks top for tackles per game (3.9) in England's second tier this term, underlining how effective the Blades are defensively out wide, and the flanks are sure to be keenly-contested areas this evening.

However, Sheffield United have also developed a statistically calculated weakness of 'making individual errors'. Only Stoke and Coventry (three) have committed more errors leading to an opposition goal than Heckingbottom's side (two) in the 2022-23 Championship campaign so far.

For a side that has conceded just five league goals this season - only Preston (one) have shipped fewer - it underscores how costly those errors have been.

Key battle

Oli McBurnie

No team has scored more goals than Sheffield United (16) in the Championship this season, so it's little wonder they have developed a statistically calculated strength of 'finishing scoring chances'.

It will be down to the Swans to try and blunt the Blades. They have a number of young players yet the 20-year-old Nathan Wood has really begun to show just why Swansea signed him from Middlesbrough this summer.

Wood's two best-rated performances this season have come in his last two league outings against Stoke and QPR, landing the man of the match award against the former. Wood ranks sixth for clearances per game (five) in the Championship this season, and his knack for being in the right place at the right time will aid the Swans this evening.

He'll be up against a familiar face, too, with former Swansea man Oliver McBurnie set to lead the charge for the Blades. McBurnie has excelled of late, netting in each of his last three league outings and, while his 2019 move to Sheffield United hasn't quite gone to plan, there are signs that he is starting to rediscover his best form and his battle with Wood will be an intriguing one.

Key stat

Ashley Williams celebrates a goal in victory over Sheffield United in 2011

Sheffield United may top the Championship table, but they do struggle on their trips to south Wales.

Indeed, Swansea are unbeaten in their last nine home meetings with the Blades, and you have to go back to November 1958 for the last time Sheffield United return to Yorkshire with a win.