Footy Accumulators talks to @Blades_analytic about Sheffield United's Premier League chances

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"The Blades are going up, and now you've got to believe us..."

What a season it has been for Sheffield United.

The Blades were tipped by most before the 2018/19 season to finish mid-table in the Championship, with their team not fancied to challenge for promotion to the Premier League alongside the likes of West Brom, Stoke City and Leeds United.

However, the reality was that Chris Wilder's side finished above all three of those clubs, and with only Norwich City finishing ahead of the South Yorkshire outfit they secured second place and top flight football for the 2019/20 campaign.

Wilder has done a truly remarkable job at Bramall Lane. He took over after Nigel Adkins had led the club to an 11th place finish in League One, but soon turned things around by winning promotion the following season.

After following that up with a 10th place finish in their first season back in the Championship, the former Northampton boss continued to improve his team and has now become the first manager since Neil Warnock in 2006 to lead the Blades into the Premier League.

He has taught his side to play a style of football which is replicated by no other side in England and possibly Europe. In a 3-5-2 formation not only do they have attacking wing-backs, but their outside centre-backs also join in going forwards with Jack O'Connell and Chris Basham proving vital.

It is a system that almost every team they have come up against in the last three years has struggled to deal with, and Wilder must be given enormous amounts of credit for this revolutionary way of playing.

So the big question now is, will it work in the Premier League?

It is likely to catch a few teams off guard, they play with a magnificent intensity and almost always go for the jugular and attack. That may have to be altered slightly, particularly against the big boys, but it seems unlikely that Wilder will change his approach too much.

There is no doubt that they will need new players, some with Premier League experience and some who can add more depth to a squad that is quite thin now that loanees Dean Henderson, Kieran Dowell, Gary Madine and Scott Hogan have returned to their parent clubs.

The likes of Oliver McBurnie, Neal Maupay, Britt Assombalonga and Ollie Watkins have already been linked with moves to Bramall Lane, perhaps highlighting that Wilder's main focus will be on strengthening their striking department.

Following the Blades promotion, we spoke to the man behind Twitter account @Blades_Analytic and newly appointed Recruitment Data Analyst at Peterborough United, Jay Socik. A man who is no stranger to statistical data, we asked Jay about the job Wilder has done and whether or not Sheffield United can continue to play their unique system in the top flight.

@FootyAccums talks to @Blades_Analyic about promotion and the Premier League

Q: What a season it has been for Sheffield United. Sum up the job Chris Wilder has done at Bramall Lane.

A: Miraculous. It's the only word to use. Three years ago when Chris took over, not one single fan, even those that knew Chris closely would have thought this possible. United were at our lowest period in about 20 years, finishing mid table in League One with apathy setting in strong, no connection to players or manager and we thought it could only get worse.

Then Wilder got appointed, after a rough start we went on to be an absolute express train over the next three years playing exciting attacking football like we'd never seen and the players played with a passion and commitment that just completely fits with us as a fanbase. It's been sensational culminating in last season and an outstanding promotion to the Premier League.

Q: The ‘false number 5’ has been talked about heavily this season, with centre-backs bombing forward and joining in attacks. Explain just how important Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell are to the way Sheffield United play.

A: They are vital. You cannot even begin to imagine the amount of work they've done on the training ground to make this system work. It's revolutionary in style. I'm still not sure enough credit is given to it by the outside world. Basham and O'Connell are very particular players. We all knew and loved Basham's work rate for years but he hadn't found a position and lacked quality. He now has a home at RCB where he can defend aggressively and on the front foot due to a covering CB in the three. Mainly though it means we can utilise his running power and under rated dribbling ability to burst past the RWB and overlap.

It's the same with O'Connell on the other side who has an almost telepathic understanding with Enda Stevens. Those wide CB overlaps create overloads out wide that allow us to work the ball to players in space for low crosses or pull backs. It's intelligent, it's dynamic and I've never seen it before. Jack often covers 11km per game, that's more than some central midfielders! The most impressive aspect this season is that defensively we are rock solid despite this commitment to attack. We've developed refined and improved. It clearly works hence both wide CBs lead the league in open play chances created and open play deep crosses from all CBs in the league.

Q: Who has been the Blades most influential player this season and why?

A: It's too hard to pick, everyone is so vital! Any one of about eight could have won our player of the year. In terms of influence I'd pick Oliver Norwood though, our season instantly changed when he arrived. His passing range is the best in the league. He is second in league for chances created, his crossing and set piece delivery is brilliant and he provides defensive balance by holding when one of the wide CBs goes forward is vital. His experience was also huge, he's a serial winner and for £2 million was up there with signings of the season.

Q: Do you think that the system the Blades play can work in the top flight?

A: In a word yes! We went to Leeds away in a huge game, if we lost it was likely Leeds would have been promoted due to the points gap it would have opened up. We played a more defensive approach within the same setup and basically out defended them. I think the system can be pragmatic if needed but I also think we will go for it against everyone outside the top six. Yes we may be susceptible to counter attacks and at times it will hurt us, but it's our identity, its what's got us this far and I trust the staff and the players to make it work.

Q: Billy Sharp has been outstanding up front this season with 24 goals in all competitions. Can he can score goals in the Premier League?

A: Billy continues to amaze, nobody thought he'd get 20 goals plus this season. He's an incredible predator but this season he's looked fitter, stronger, better technically and dare I say it sharper. I think he'll give his pre season everything to be in best shape ever for this season with his beloved Blades on the Premier League. His game isn't based on pace, it's based on instinct and intelligence. He scored the most headed goals in the league despite being nowhere near what you may call tall! He's so so clever with his movement and we play to a style that looks to create high quality chances in and around the penalty box and six yard box rather than playing from large distances or pot shots from deep. I think he can translate some of this form to the Premier League. He simply finds a way.

Q: Which areas do you feel that United need to improve in the transfer window?

A: Naturally we will be on the back foot more next season. Therefore we need the one thing we all know we lack which is pace. Our game is based on pinning the opposition in the final third and playing our rotational positional play to create overloads. That will still be strategy number one, but for times where we are under pressure we need some pace and directness to hurt the opposition in transition.

In terms of positions, we only really have two first team forwards in McGoldrick and Sharp next season who are both over 30. I'd expect some younger more dynamic and powerful players in this area to come in. I also think a more dominant ball winning central midfielder is a must. Fleck and Norwood are sensational at building attacks but aren't physically strong or quick and dominating. I'd also think a cover RCB/RWB could be in the offing. Baldock has been brilliant again but lacks that final piece of jigsaw in quality delivery, whilst Freeman I don't think as the physical stature to play our game in the Premier League. Our biggest need is to get Dean Henderson back on loan though!

If you don't already, make sure you are following @Blades_Analytic on Twitter for outstanding insight into stats from the EFL.

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