Barnsley v Sheffield United tactical preview: Helik v Sharp
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After losing in midweek, Barnsley and Sheffield United will both be looking to bounce back in this one. Benjamin Bloom has all you need to know, with odds from Betfair throughout.
Setting The Scene – Different Versions Of Underachievement
I don’t particularly like to consult my pre-season predictions until everything is finished in the Championship, but if I reviewed them right now I suspect both Sheffield United and Barnsley would currently be well below where I thought they would. Underachievement is obviously relative and adding in even the most mild of expectations doesn’t reflect well in the opening 13 games for these two.
For Sheffield United, the expected position for a team in receipt of parachute payments is in the top six, indeed the other three teams receiving that Premier League broadcast bonus are as it stands first, second and third in the table. The Blades are 17th and lost for the sixth time this season against Millwall in midweek. I can talk about the red card they received, or any number of other tricky factors not helping the club at the moment, but that’s still a lot of defeats. More alarmingly is Sheffield United have lost three in four, and when that happened at the start of the season it looked like they’d responded well and a corner had been turned, now here we are again.
Barnsley would happily take Sheffield United’s squad and league position as they languish second from bottom with only one win this season, with the caveat that Derby are bottom for off pitch issues, on the pitch the Tykes are the worst team in the division. It feels like we are getting to the tipping point for Barnsley boss Marcus Schopp where the Oakwell club either have to make a change or go all in with the understanding there is a real possibility of relegation if things don’t trend up soon.
One To Watch – Iliman Ndiaye (Sheffield United)
The legendary 3-5-2 system Chris Wilder deployed so brilliantly at Sheffield United was quickly dismissed by Slavisa Jokanovic. Some will think he did it just to put his own stamp on the team, but those of us who saw his Fulham team promoted will have witnessed a back four, with rotation in midfield and inside forwards supporting a central striker. One of the big problems with the limited recruitment in the summer at Bramall Lane in Jokanovic’s first window at the club is that he still has, in the main, Wilder’s squad at his disposal.
Finding the players to fit his system has been tricky so far for Jokanovic. David McGoldrick’s recent return gives another option, Morgan Gibbs-White has been loaned in but will be suspended for this game, and Ben Osborn has moved up the pitch to help in the left-wing area. In the number ten role Ilman Ndaiye has been the man generally entrusted, and with the absence of Gibbs-White, may have the burden of creative responsibility against Barnsley.
The new contract signed by Ndiaye was announced as if it were a new signing by the club during the transfer window, then Ndiaye exploded into action during his Championship bow against Peterborough with two goals and an assist. In Jokanovic’s system, Ndiaye is expected to carry the ball, link play, and be able to take chances should they come his way. In a broader sense though, he represents a new face not so heavily linked with the previous era and a young player with a longer shelf life at Bramall Lane than a loanee like Gibbs-White or a veteran like David McGoldrick or Billy Sharp.
One To Watch – Bradley Collins (Barnsley)
Last season Barnsley keeper Bradley Collins must feel he was playing a different sport to this one. As Barnsley pushed to a remarkable fifth placed finish, Collins could be found patrolling the edge of his penalty box with his back three somewhere in the distance pressing up the pitch. It wasn’t an easy job being last line of defence in Valerian Ismael’s exhilarating team but the fact that last season Barnsley faced the fewest shots (8.5) and made the most tackles (16.9) per game in the division is always helpful for a keeper.
This season things have been very different and Collins has been more firefighter than defensive sweeper. Barnsley’s solitary win this season came against Coventry with Collins saving a 93rd minute penalty, and the point at Stoke was recorded with Collins saving another penalty amongst the deluge of Stoke efforts on goal. To draw a direct comparison with last season, Barnsley are now facing 12.2 shots per game, a 43% increase, but do still surprisingly top the tackles per game numbers.
Things have really not clicked at all for new boss Markus Schopp so far and it feels like things would possibly be even worse had it not been for the man in between the posts. I’m not suggesting Barnsley aren’t capable of getting anything without Collins playing well, but with their current results and confidence a reliable goalkeeper quickly becomes a key figure in steadying the ship and potentially moving up the table. We expect Sheffiled United to have plenty of the ball and Collins to face plenty of shots, can he provide the foundation once again for his team to take something from the game.
Key Battle – Michal Helik v Billy Sharp
Who would have thought 35 year old Billy Sharp would still be leading the line for Sheffield United as we close in on 2022? Sharp was brilliantly used in the 18/19 season, where he consistently had a number ten behind him and a strike partner up top and was given the support to get inside the box and try and find spaces. He did that beautifully and scored 23 Championship goals. Now three seasons on there’s no striker partner in the system, Oli McBurnie, Rhian Brewster, Lys Mousset are all in the squad and Sharp is still the choice at central striker.
To give Sharp the credit he deserves, he looks fit and hungry to embrace the new role and work for his new manager. The output is good from Sharp, he has four goals, two from the penalty spot, and has already provided as many assists as he did during the entire 23 goal campaign when the Blades were promoted. The veteran striker will likely be up against Michal, the Barnsley centre back, who like so many of last season’s team became a star of the Championship and full international since arriving in Yorkshire. Helik leads Barnsley’s squad for blocks, clearances and interceptions and will fancy a one v once with Sharp.
For all Sharp’s charisma, cult status and Bramall Lane and good reputation in the game, in the politest way possible, he knows how to get one over on an opponent. If there’s a foul to be drawn, a word to be uttered, or a trick to be played, Sharp is cunning and experienced enough to know how and when to do it. Helik is uncompromising and likely at an advantage in the physical sense, but it’s the battle of wits, wills and concentration that he needs to engage in to keep the old master off the scoresheet.
Inside insight – (Barnsley – @RedsReport_)
The Tykes look a poor shadow of last seasons team. Whilst a South Yorkshire Derby is normally THE fixture fans look forward to this one feels completely different. Barnsley coming off 5 losses in a row and have not s owed in open play for 8 matches. The fans have lost faith in Markus Schopp’s vision for the team with questionable team selections and an apparent inability to combat opposition changes of tactics or formation. Whilst a vast majority of fans feel change of manager is needed a loss in a derby would most certainly mean “the chop for Schopp”.
Oulare made his first appearance for the reds in Wednesdays 2-0 loss at Middlesborough. Confidence is at an all time low and the hope is that the Belgium player can get the Tykes moving away from the bottom 3. There don’t seem to be any fresh injures ahead of the Sunday midday kick off but , again, unless the Tykes can find a goal in this derby it could prove to be more of a silent disco than the usual South Yorkshire fireworks . Time is running out for Mr Schopp and this might not be the match to change his fortunes as Barnsley’s headcoach. Prediction : 0-2
Inside insight – (Sheffield United – @HalTheBlade of @SheffUnitedWay)
Sheffield United have a potential headache that could actually work in their favour, with Morgan Gibbs-White unavailable through suspension, Slavisa Jokanovic could choose to change formation or opt for a straight replacement such as Oliver Burke in that right wing position. There isn’t another out and out right winger at the club but Burke has been largely out of favour in recent weeks so a change in formation, even if only slightly, could be more beneficial.
The Blades have been playing 4-2-3-1 it’s possible that David McGoldrick could simply operate behind a lone striker again, as he did against Millwall midweek, Iliman Ndiaye could play wide right. This isn’t a position the Frenchman particularly excels in but he has started their before, against Southampton in the League Cup. Most United fans would prefer to see a formation shift with two strikers up top. Sharp on his own has not seemed fair at times on the veteran club legend, he’s giving everything but sometimes you just want to scream ‘help him!’ Barnsley is not only a Yorkshire derby but also a game Blades fans would hope to win when looking at the league table.
On paper United would be favourites but both clubs have been playing well below expectations. One thing all Sheffield United supporters are concerned about is conceding, this has now become an unwanted habit after previously being so strong in this area the last time the Blades were in the Championship. Barnsley don’t score many (7) so that’s a crumb of comfort but anything can happen on match day and this one will either be a back and forth affair with both sides looking to exploit errors in the unconvincing back-lines or a drab, cagey and tight contest. Much will depend on the tactics deployed by both men in their respective hot seats.
Odds correct at the time of publication. 18+ Please Gamble Responsibly. Visit begambleaware.org
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