Premier League Match of the Week: Sheffield United vs. Burnley

Premier League Match of the Week: Sheffield United vs. Burnley

This article is part of our Match of the Week series.

Saturday brought a battle of the less fortunate, to put it kindly, Burnley and Sheffield United met for a bottom of the table six-pointer. Burnley wound up running away with this campaign's season series, scoring nine goals against the Blades after a 5-0 triumph in early December. The result didn't move either side on the table, with Sheffield United nailed to the bottom of the barrel, possibly getting mathematically demoted by Wednesday. At the same time, Burnley kept their slim chances of staying alive, only three points off of safety 19th place. 

Starting XI

Formation-wise, Burnley kept with their 4-4-2 while Sheffield made a surprising switch from the 3-5-2 to a 4-2-3-1 for the first time this season. 

Burnley made two changes, with Hjalmar Ekdal dropping to the bench for Dara O'Shea and Charlie Taylor's addition to the team.

Sheffield made a pair of changes: Vinicius came in replacing Mason Holgate and James McAtee swapped with Yasser Larouci, taking over the right flank. 

Match Facts

Sheffield started positively, but it wasn't ever enough to  gain a real foothold on the match.

The defense is the most significant part of their tactic, as everything is set up by sitting further back and allowing pressure before breaking on a counterattack. They typically set up a medium-low block before ultimately shifting to the low block, hoping to completely shutout the opposing team from their box and allowing possession to the opponent as a trade-off. The main point of the low block is to force longer-range shots and chances that end up in turnovers instead of having a team set up to push the other way and risking better chances inside the box, hoping that the low xG shots lead to fewer goals and more clean sheets for the club. 

They set up in more of a 4-4-2 when defending, with McAtee moving to the midfield while Oliver McBurnie and Ben Brereton Diaz stayed up top to break on the counter. They usually keep the formation a bit skinnier to continue the defense of their box and minimize gaps for through balls, although they spread a bit more Saturday to defend the surging full-backs Burnley brings up to join the attack. When attacking the ball, they didn't do it all that much, instead moving away from the press that has taken over the league and sitting back to preserve their formation. The only time they broke the formation and game plan is to step out and intercept a poor pass or heavy touch made by the opposition. 

One massive key I didn't touch on was McBurnie's importance to this side, which shouldn't be a  surprise, as he's the top scorer. However, it's deeper than that. The forward plays as a pure number nine for the club, being a target man in the middle of the pitch, running the entire build up and attack through him.  That was present after he struggled Saturday, registering four shots (two on target) and zero chances created, with all eight of his touches in the opposing box going to waste. 

Burnley's tactical set up a different look, although we will start in the defense again. The Clarets' defending is almost the direct opposite of Sheffield's, wanting to push the action instead of sitting back. They also set up in a 4-4-2, with the two forwards pressing the opposing defenders whenever on the ball. The rest of the team is set up in a middle block, hoping to stop the opponent before they can creep into the box or find space behind. They kept their shape narrow to prevent attacks through the middle, being much more comfortable giving up space on the outside than giving a direct path to the goal through the center. Outside of that, much of the team would press around the field, trying to force a turnover.

Their attacking was a lot slower than the Blades, with possession and passing being the prominent features. They set up a bit differently, with the two central defenders staying back to leave a back pass option while the full-backs bump up the outside midfielders to the attack, shifting the outside players up in the formation. From here, the full-backs overlap on the outside to create more numbers in the attack, hoping to use the overload and their movement to shape out passes into the box or a cross in search of a head. 

Vincent Kompany takes a page out of former manager Pep Guardiola's book when it comes to his attacking tactic, prioritizing possession and movement after passes to work the ball up the field, being okay with a slower buildup that could take multiple passes back and a couple of minutes of working the ball around before shaping out a chance. It isn't as clean as Manchester City's system, but it does suit the younger team well.

Once in the final third, the main goal was to build triangles and work for one-two passes that would lead to a runner slipping into the box for a shot. They didn't take many long-range chances, as they do value higher xG situations rather than more chances with a lower outcome, only seeing two shots from outside the box. 

Neither team's tactics succeeded in any significant way. Instead, the mistakes and failure to commit to their tactics caused this sloppy match and the few bright spots. For example, Sheffield couldn't get much to come from their counterattacks, a few chances here and there, but nothing broke open enough to create a solid scoring opportunity despite their numerous chances, not even to mention their set-pieces, as they failed to get anything going from those even though those situations are their most lethal part of the game. As for Burnley, they couldn't keep any possession, playing more of a kickball match than anything. They did have some success here and there moving the ball, but not enough to signify a successful tactical plan. 

The goals all came from messy play. Burnley started by scoring on a counterattack, with Sheffield not setting up and a deflected ball somehow finding the net just minutes before Assignon waltzed through the defense effortlessly for a near-post goal that should've never happened. However, Sheffield's one spark of confidence was their goal, as they finally got a counterattack to work with the brilliance of Gustavo Hamer. That confidence quickly switched off, though, as Burnley would score yet another goal on a counter despite the "defensive" minded Blades team. Finally, Sheffield gave up their box and allowed a goal right inside the 18-yard box to secure their misery.

This match was an eyesore. It was tough to watch as a neutral, with both sides laboring to find a any success but coming well short in the end, with the only success being that Burnley could pull out the win. On paper, it was Sheffield's match to lose, as they had 18 shots and 2.43 xG compared to Burnley's 16 and 2.18, respectively. However, the contest was controlled by Burnley 51 percent of the match, with them getting more opportunities, having three big chances compared to the Blades two. 

Man of the Match 

The clear Man of the Match is Lorenz Assignon, as he had a great match not only defending on the right flank but also pushing forward in the attack despite playing as a full-back. The right-back would score the club's second goal before he also assisted the third when he found Foster. That was not all, though, as he added three touches in the opposing box, two chances created and two crosses, constantly creating problems for the Blades. His defensive stats were just as impressive, registering one tackles, an interception, five clearances and seven recoveries in the win.

Upcoming Fixtures

With only four matches left, it doesn't look like Burnley has much chance of staying up. They start the final stretch facing Manchester United, Newcastle and Tottenham. The final match then gets interesting, as they will face Nottingham Forest, with either club possibly getting relegated based on the results of that game, but we will have to wait and see how other games play out. 

Sheffield have five games left, although their situation is even worse, as they will need to win at least four of their final matches to have a chance of staying up while needing help from other teams. However, that looks unlikely as they will face three challenging clubs. They begin with Manchester United and Newcastle before two slightly easier matches against Nottingham Forest and Everton. Finally, they conclude the season against Tottenham. 

Looking Ahead

Burnley will only have one thing on their mind: staying in the top flight of English football. They won the first part of the battle by getting the win against a much weaker team Saturday, but now have to finish it off by getting at least two or three points before their match against Nottingham Forest, with that most likely being the decider on who stays up, only separated by three points at the minute. However, three straight losses could see the Clarets relegated before the match against Forest. 

Sheffield's situation is a lot more dire. At this point, they really can't have any slip-ups while needing all the help in the world from teams playing the other three or four sides that are also battling relegation. They could be mathematically relegated as early as Saturday, with a loss Wednesday and Saturday or a loss in either one of those and a Luton Town win Saturday would equal their demise and relegation. If their season ends in  the coming week, the primary intent from there on out will be to start working towards next season and building confidence, hoping to return to the Premier League.

Gameweek 35 

We have a doozy ahead of next week, as Tottenham and Arsenal will meet in a North London Derby. Spurs sit in fifth, maintaining a Europa League spot but still fighting for Champions League qualification with Aston Villa, who sit six points ahead. Arsenal, on the other hand, is still in the race for the title. They currently sit atop the league with a game in hand on Manchester City, who is only two points behind, with any slip-up from the Gunners most likely ending their bid for this season's Championship. 

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Will Van Dinter
I graduated from Wisconsin Dells High School and attended University of Wisconsin-Madison for one year. I support all Wisconsin sports teams, with UW-Madison athletics being the highest of my priorities while the Green Bay Packers are not trailing far behind. My whole life revolves around soccer and the highest tiers of competition in the sport. When it comes to my favorite team, there is only one thing I can say: Manchester bleeds blue. I am also a huge fan of combat sports, with wrestling holding a special place in my heart, as I truly think it is the most underrated sport in America.
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