Pre-match stats: Blades vs Southampton

Under Ralph Hasenhüttl (German for ‘rabbit hutch’) the Saints have become known as an intense high pressing outfit. This season so far, they have mostly played three at the back in a 3-4-2-1 and 4-2-2-2, which was “The Alpine Klopp’s” trademark formation at RB Leipzig, but have also used 4-3-3 and 3-5-2.


They usually aim to press ‘inside’ or ‘outside’. They’re likely to press the Blades ‘inside’, ie to try and stop us playing up the flanks.

But, CW/AK will be very aware of their traits, and may have noticed Burnley did very well against them on the first day of the season by going very direct and by-passing the press.

For tactics chin-scratchers it’s a mouth-watering clash.

The head-to-head stats so far (yes, a very small sample, I know) show two teams fairly tightly-matched. Both managing to create a similar number and quality of chances (xG) and close in the chances they allow to opponents (xGA).


Looking at head-to-head numbers, style is evident in a few categories. The Blades have had more passes (with greater pass success) and more passes in opponents’ final 20m (deepCPG – deep completions per game) with a higher average line (avgLinePG) and more touches in the opposition final third (opp3rd).

Those all reflect the way the Blades play – high up the pitch with lots of final third passes. All the Saints possession, passing and directness numbers point to a team that’s not that bothered about having the ball but is very keen on making you give it away and then building quickly from that. Although, interestingly, the two teams are close in terms of how much opposition passing they allow for each defensive action against them (ppdaPG).

Here’s a closer look at the two teams’ ppda ([opponent] passes per defensive action) and ppdaA (A for against). ppdaA shows the number of passes a team makes compared to defensive actions against. The chart clearly shows the Blades and Southampton diverge significantly on this front.


Finally, here’s another view of the two teams in terms of construction and attempts at conversion. The Blades register a higher volume of final third entries, final third passes, crosses and corners. That’s not necessarily better, but can be reflective of style. When it comes to shots, Southampton have had more of everything so far, except goals, with the Blades having converted one more.

It’s early days and only a small sample of games to draw conclusions from, but it’s an enticing clash of styles on the cards.

  1. Head-to-head: Construction


2. Head-to-head: Conversion attempts



Blades in the Prem: A decent start backed up by the numbers

With four games gone and a W, two Ds and an L so far, the Blades start to the Premier League season has not been a shabby one.

Sure, it’s early days and four games is a very small sample, but so far the numbers are looking good.

And, there’s every reason to believe Chris Wilder has brought the style of play that won promotion from the Championship into the PL, which we can take a look at by looking at some of the data so far.


  1. We’re doing it our way. Passmap and average player positions in the second half at Chelsea.

First, let’s look at some of the underlying performance numbers. These provide comforting reading so far.

By the time of going to press, Blades had scored 5 and conceded 5 and got 5 points out of a possible 12.

But when we look at the amount and quality of chances created (expected goals or xG) and the amount and quality of chances allowed (expected goals against or xGA), Sheffield United are well-placed.

After three games, United ranked 10th with xG of 4.04, which isn’t bad. But in terms of xGA we had only clocked up 2.41, which ranked us 3rd meanest in giving away chances behind Manchester United and Everton.


  1. Expected goals after three games.

Those numbers took a bit of a hit at Chelsea, but we can count them as ‘top 6’ opposition so it’s to be expected (and we did get a result!)

When it comes to sheer numbers of shots, we ranked fairly low, with 31 (fifth lowest) before Chelsea.

Should we be hugely concerned? Not right now. Wilder and Knill have always coached the team to get into good positions before shooting.

Combine that with the fact that chances are a little bit harder to come by in the PL compared to the Championship and the low number makes sense.

It is possible to put a positive spin on that as well, though, as it means we have a very high xG per shot, ranked second after three games.

But, numbers of shots could be one to watch – as well as where our shots are coming from – as the season progresses.

Meanwhile, the good news when it comes to shots is that we are (were until the Chelsea game) among the tightest in the division in terms of allowing them. As with xGA, when it comes to shots against, with three games gone we had allowed the third least behind Man U and Everton.

Playing the Sheff United way?

Does any of this have any connection to our style of play?

You could argue it does.

The Wilder and Knill way of playing is based around carrying the ball high up the pitch to the opposition, working it around, seeking overloads and making passes/crosses into dangerous, high xG positions in front of goal. Oh, and if a centre back can help out, that makes it a ‘signature’ Blades overlapping CB move.

Playing high up the pitch a lot means you are less likely to concede the sheer amount of chances you would if you played a low block, with two banks of four set up to absorb pressure.

That is probably where our low shots against and xGA numbers come from.

Can we back that up with numbers? Yes, and quite spectacularly.

Up until the Chelsea game, Blades topped the table in terms of deep completions. That is, passes made within 20m of the opponent’s goal line. To give you an idea of the kind of company we were keeping there, Liverpool and Tottenham were second and third.


  1. Deep completions per game (after three games). This counts number of passes within 20m of the opponent’s goal line.

The Blades’ tendency to take things to the opposition is also evident when we look at the number of touches taken in the opponent’s final third. Once again, Sheffield United topped the table, with Liverpool and Spurs following on.

We can also calculate how high up the pitch we’ve been playing. That’s done by averaging all the positions in which players touch the ball during the game. Before the Chelsea game, Blades were second only to Liverpool in terms of their average line, higher even than Manchester City in third place.


  1. Average line per game. An average of all player touches during games.

So, so far, things are looking good and it looks like we’re playing ‘our way’.

The big question is, though, how will things change against ‘top 6’ opposition?

One way might be to look at how directly we play. When pinned back by high-pressing and athletic teams, it stands to reason we are likely to play out from that much more directly.

Fortunately, we can measure the proportion of direct play, by taking the total pass distance and finding out how much of that took the team towards the opponent’s goal.

With three games gone Blades were mid-table, ranking 8th most direct in the Prem. The least direct teams are the ones you’d expect – able to dominate possession all the way up the pitch and keep it there – and are basically a roll-call of the top 6 usual suspects.

Our directness didn’t differ much between games either (before the Chelsea game), with ratings of 53% (away at Bournemouth), 52% (Palace) and 50% (Leicester).

The first test against a top 6 contender didn’t see much change, with a 51% directness rating.

So, we’re only 4 games in and are turning out a lot better than some of the pundits have predicted.

The key thing is too, that our underlying numbers look good. That bodes well for the season. We’ll check back in to see how these things play out.

Blades in the Prem: What to expect

For Blades fans the memories of that golden few weeks from Easter to the end of the 2018-2019 season will bring smiles for a long time; the stuttering collapse at home to Millwall, then coming back to power home for the final few games, and Leeds falling apart.

The big question now is what does “the promised land” hold in store?


The only real option is to look at data for newly-promoted teams in the Premier League to see how they have fared.

It would be nice to be able to say, teams that play a certain way stand XX% of achieving a top half finish, but the data doesn’t allow that.

Also, teams change, managers, change, clubs buy well and sometimes don’t, and then there’s the relative strength of the opposition they find around them as they step up. In short, there are lots of variables.

But, using league table data going back to 2000 and more advanced shot and passing stats from 2014, we can draw some conclusions about the prospects for success of teams going from Championship to PL, and make some suggestions about style of play.

First of all, and looking at the most basic numbers, what is the first season in the PL likely to be like for a newly-promoted team?

The big picture: Survival is 50/50

The stark fact is that the likelihood of a promoted team making it to a second season in the top flight are about 50/50.

Since 2000 there have been 60 promotions from the Championship to the Premier League. Of those 57 promoted teams that have played a PL campaign, 26 have been relegated in their first season. That’s a survival rate of 55%.

And, in terms of absolute numbers we should expect less of everything we’ve been used to seeing – passes, shots, goals and time in the opponent’s final third.

The best ever performance by a team in its first PL season since 2000 saw it gain five fewer wins than the season before (West Ham in 2005-06) – that’s a staggering difference of only 0.03 fewer wins per game.

But for most promoted teams the picture is a lot bleaker, with an average of about 15 less wins than the season before. And of course, there will be more losses too.

No newly-promoted team since 2000 has lost fewer games than the previous season. The average number of extra Ls in the first promoted season is just over 9, but plenty of teams (26) have lost more than that.

Every team promoted to the PL has scored fewer goals (on average 35 less) and nearly all have let more in (you can add 16 to the A column on average).

Shots and passes: Less of those

In terms of shots and deep completions (passes within 25m of the opponent’s goal line) promoted teams chalk up less of all of them as they come up against well-established opposition.

In terms of shots, we’re talking hundreds less over the season. Promoted teams since 2014 saw numbers of shots decline between 341 (Hull 16-17, relegated) and 117 (QPR 14-15, also relegated) in their first PL season.

The number of passes a team makes around the opposition box (deep completions) invariably suffers too, and that’s of special interest to Blades fans with it being a major part of the Wilder-Knill approach.

For promoted teams since 2014 deep completions fell by between 377 (Fulham 18-19, relegated) and 127 (Burnley 16-17, finished 16th).

Quality matters: Shots and xG


OK, so we get it. Playing in the Premier League inevitably means fewer chances, fewer goals, conceding more, etc.

But a look at expected goals (xG) and expected goals against (xGA) for promoted teams gives some clues about what successful (ie, not relegated) teams need to do to survive.

xG is a measure of the quality and quantity of shots created. Every promoted team since 2016 has (in per-game terms) seen a decline in xG while their xGA has increased. Neither of which should be a surprise as they face better opposition in the PL.

The key is, however, to make sure they carry as much success in creating chances over to their first season in the Prem from their promotion success as they can.

There is a clear correlation between xG and Premier League survival for the years we have data for (see chart: xG per game). If your xG declines less than the average that’s clearly a good thing, as the colour of the dots on the chart shows clearly.

PL survivors keep defending well


Meanwhile, you have to ensure your defence remains as solid as possible as you move from Championship to PL.

Maintaining decent xGA in your first Premier League campaign is as important as getting and scoring from quality chances.

The chart (xGA per game) tells that story, with those teams least able to get close to keeping Championship defensive form the most likely to go down. (Middlesbrough’s goal-scoring performance in 2016-17 was awful, in case you’re wondering.)

Villa have most to do defensively


What’s perhaps most interesting for those watching the promoted teams in the PL in the coming season is that Aston Villa have the biggest job on their hands in terms of defending.

Villa go into the Prem with the worst xGA (64.51 or 1.40 per game) of any team promoted from the Championship over the last four seasons, which means they don’t have much headroom to allow for the pretty much inevitable decline in defensive outcomes.

By rights, their xGA per game should get worse in the first season back in the PL –everybody’s does – but they can’t allow that to happen. Since 2015 seven promoted teams have racked up xGA worse than 1.40 in the Premier League and four of those have been relegated.

Of the three promoted in 2019, the Blades take the best defensive record into the PL. Looking at the chart (Promoted teams: xG vs xGA), the key thing is the distance between the two lines. For United that gap is, pleasingly, the widest, while Villa seem to have relied on always being able to score more than they let in.

Will we do it ‘our way’?


When it comes to style of play, there seems to be a connection between PL survival and a team’s ability to keep playing the way they did the season before.

The chart (% of time in final third) shows average time spent in opponents’ final thirds and the amount they passed the ball while there, in promotion-winning seasons and then the PL.

All promoted teams saw a decline in both measures, but it was those that slipped downwards and to the right in the chart the most – ie, those spending less time in the final third or pass it as much in that part of the pitch – that were often relegated.

What does it all mean for United?

The distinctive Wilder-Knill approach that United have come to be known for was developed by their own admission as a way of winkling out visiting League One opponents from deep-lying defensive positions at Bramall Lane.

It is characterised by playing high up the pitch, with lots of ball circulation around the edges of the area, overloads on the flanks and centre backs that have licence to add to the mix in the final third. All of which then aims to feed balls into high xG locations in front of goal.

That approach continued into the Championship, although it is arguable we saw less of it in the second half of the season. Instead – and what took us to second spot –was a new-found tactical flexibility which saw us sit in and grind out victory or play longer and more directly when required.

We should expect that to continue into next season. The distinctive United way will still be there, but expect it to be part of a mix that sees more caution and defensive solidity available when needed.

At the same time, expect United to try to get the ball to those most dangerous areas a short distance in front of goal. Those high xG chances are key to survival.

As we’ve seen, every team that gets promoted will achieve less in offensive terms and concede more to opponents.

A clever management team will devise a tactical toolbox that can best take advantage of that. And we know that in Wilder and Knill we’ve got one of those.

A classic story arc and the run-in: How the Blades made it to the Premier League

With Sheffield United promoted to the Premier League, we can safely reflect on how this was achieved. But also how with four games to go it felt like it had slipped from our grasp.

It’s true, just as the story arc beloved of so much on-screen drama likes to pitch us into a trough of despair before the final act, with four games to go something of a crisis had descended on Blades fans.

A drama-filled last 10 minutes against Millwall the week before Easter dumped United out of the automatic promotion spots, and looking like we needed to win all remaining games.

Question marks loomed over whether “our” way of playing was something we could still do. Was it spent, “sussed out” by opponents?

It turned out it wasn’t. Our heroes bounced back with on-the-spin wins that saw promotion clinched with a game to go.

But, what led to that pivotal point in our season?

Let’s recap how the season panned out from a numbers point of view and tactically.

Overlapping centre-backs

Sheffield United have become known for use of so-called overlapping centre backs.

That means any of the right and left CBs can end up in the opponent’s final third. Often that sees them helping out with build-up play high along the flanks and sometimes making crosses, or even getting on the end of them.

But, that part of our game has usually been an addition to the core style of Wilder and Knill’s Blades. That’s been built around lots of possession in the final third, starting on the flanks, with overloads created to unbalance the opposition before picking out a route to or near the six-yard box.

That seemed to be the only way we played until around Christmas. It had served us well. We were in the top six, but the streets of south-west Sheffield rang with cries of “We need to be more clinical”.

Back then, the Blades rode high in terms of expected goals – a score given according to the quantity and quality of chances created – but lagged behind when it came to actual goals.

On Christmas day United stood sixth. But, a similar air of gloom had descended to that which reigned after the draw with Millwall, after another 1-1 draw against a lowly team; Ipswich in that case.

Champions’ form

But what a transformation Santa brought us!

Up to 25 December average points-per-game (ppg) had been just over 1.65, with average goals-per-game at 1.57.

That improved massively. From the end of December to Easter our ppg rose to 2.15, which was champion’s form.


But, some numbers started to dip just before Easter. This came alongside some unusual and difficult games, and some changes in our style of play.

We’ll get to those numbers below. First let’s look at the games and performances in question.

New year, new United?

Since beating Reading 4-0 at Bramall Lane in mid-February there was a run of games that didn’t allow our trademark style to come to the fore. They included:

  • Grinding out a 0-1 win at WBA,
  • A cagey and tense 0-0 Steel City derby,
  • Defeating a 10-man ultra-defensive Rotherham 2-0,
  • Taking victory from an ultra-defensive setup when down to 10 men against Brentford (2-0),
  • Absorbing intense pressure, playing on the counter and beating Leeds United at Elland Road (0-1),
  • Slipping to defeat (2-3) at home to a Bristol City side that out-pressed and out-played us,
  • Bouncing back with a 1-0 win at Preston, before,
  • Two 1-1 draws in a week to Birmingham and Millwall.

Tactically, two things emerged from that.

One was what started to look like a plan B, and an ability to sit back and play a longer, quicker, more direct game.

The more direct way of playing often saw the pacier, more direct Kieran Dowell selected in midfield over Mark Duffy, who typified the play-high-and-pass-a-lot Blades of 2018-19.

The other thing was an increased solidity in defence, typified by the performances at Leeds and against Brentford.


We gave up only five goals in those nine games up to Easter. And when we measure goals allowed vs expected goals against for that period, the chart looks good – generally letting in fewer than the numbers said we should.

There were concerns at the other end of the pitch, however.


Last-10-game form up to Easter was still decent at 2.1ppg. Chop that down to the last eight and it became 1.88, which still wasn’t bad but spread over the season equated to more like third place in the league.

Meanwhile, goal-per-game figures declined since Christmas from 1.73 to 1.25 for the last eight games to Easter.

Despite being higher in the table, xG per game from Christmas to Easter was lower (1.42) than it was for the first part of the season (1.65), and over the last 10 (1.42), last eight (1.4), and last six (1.38) up to the Forest game that figure declined further.

And, in the 10 games up to Easter we only had better xG than our opponent on three occasions.

The big question, on the verge of the final act, was whether this decline in offensive capability was a reflection of the run of games and opponents faced. Or, was it that opponents worked out the Sheffield United way of playing?

A combination of these seemed likely, with fatigue thrown in sometimes too. But, it did seem at times that we struggled to impose our play-high-and-pass-a-lot style of play on opponents.

Even sides like Rotherham, Millwall and Birmingham found that clogging the supply lines to where we like to play effectively stifled our plan A. Our opponents clearly know how to stop us playing as we like to play. The question was whether they could. Would we do it our way or would there be a need for new tactical twists?

Did we do it our way?

We did.

The Blades came good at the right time.

United steamed home with 2.75ppg for the last four, with three wins and a draw. Meanwhile, a disastrous Easter weekend ushered in a Leeds collapse that saw them gain one point in four matches, for a startlingly bad 0.25ppg.

Successive United wins and clean sheets – less convincingly against Forest then in rampant form against Hull and Ipswich – saw second place secured with xG per game of 1.43 and xGA of 0.7 per game.

What emerged in the run-in was that some opponents clearly knew how to stop us playing as we like to play. The question was whether they could.

For the most part the answer was no, but it must be said that we had developed a new-found tactical flexibility as the season progressed.

The big questions now are which parts of that tactical toolbox will we see come to the fore in a much tougher Premier League and who will be the players to do it?

Rock, paper, scissors: Which Sheffield United will play at Preston?

(Written for Preston North End site, From the Finney)

I’m not certain what to expect from Sheffield United at Preston on Saturday.

A lot of that is down to the fact that I don’t know what to expect from Preston.

North End are one of the most improved, if not the most improved team in the Championship this season.

You can see that in this chart, which shows league position since January.

1. LeaguePos3Apr

The Blades have made a name for themselves – and achieved great results – on the back of a distinctive style of play under Chris Wilder and assistant Alan Knill.

Most well-known perhaps is that we have played with so-called overlapping centre backs. That means that any of the two right and left CBs can end up bombing forward to the opponent’s final third. Most often that sees them helping out with build-up play high along the flanks and sometimes making crosses (or even getting on the end of them!).

But, that part of Sheffield United’s game is usually an addition to the core style of Wilder and Knill’s Blades. That style is built around a lot of possession in the final third, starting on the flanks, with overloads created to unbalance the opposition before picking out a route to near the six-yard box.

This style has a definite preference for getting in close before making attempts at goal. United are among the most efficient in terms of shots-to-goals ratio in the division and among the lowest for shots from outside the penalty box.

You can see in this this chart that United are – averaged over the season – a team that spends a lot of time in the opponent’s final third and pass the ball a lot when they’re there.

2. TimeOpp3rd3Apr

That’s the style of play the Blades have become known for this season.

So, why am I not certain they’ll play that way at Deepdale?

Well, anyone who has watched Sheffield United in televised games recently may have seen very little that type of play.

That’s because there has been a run of games recently that haven’t allowed that trade-mark style to come to the fore.

Since beating Reading 4-0 at Bramall Lane in mid-February:

  • United have ground out a 0-1 away win at WBA,
  • taken part in a cagey and tense 0-0 Steel City derby,
  • defeated a 10-man ultra-defensive Rotherham 2-0,
  • taken victory from an ultra-defensive setup when down to 10 men against Brentford (2-0) and,
  • absorbed intense pressure, played on the counter, roughed up and beat Leeds United at Elland Road (0-1).

In other words, for quite a few games now the Blades have not played in the way we’ve become known for this season. Instead, Sheffield United have developed something of a plan B and an ability to sit back and play a longer, quicker, more direct game to take the chances that arise.

You can see from this chart that the number of passes made within 20m of the opponent’s goal line (aka Deep Completions) has declined since February for the Blades.

3. DeepCperGame3Apr

The more direct way of playing has lately often seen Kieran Dowell selected in midfield over Mark Duffy (who may well still be injured anyway for this Saturday). Duffy typifies the play-high-and-pass-a-lot Blades. Dowell is pacier – a 22-year-old Everton loanee – and suits a more direct style of play from deeper positions.

So, which Blades will we see at Deepdale?

If I had to bet I’d put money on the latter. Preston North End are the most dangerous and in-form club we now have to play on our run-in.

Playing away always tends to mean playing against a team urged forward by the home crowd, so I expect us to have to spend some time absorbing pressure and taking our chances when they arise.

But, I have no access to what Wilder and Knill are thinking.

And I often think how opposing managers approach a football match is a bit like a game of rock-paper-scissors. If one sets up one way and the other succeeds in stifling that, then it’s time to try something else.

The Blades are coming off a defeat to another in-form side (Bristol City, 2-3) in a match that was characterised by effective pressing by the Robins and full of tactical shifts and gambles (won by Lee Johnson).

Preston show up in similar areas in terms of pressing intensity and quantity and quality of shots as Bristol City.

So, on the face of it, I expect our forthcoming fixture to be similar as our last, but hopefully not in outcome.

But you never know. This is football. And we can’t say for certain what tactical setups our managers will pull out from behind their backs.

Antony Adshead tweets as @S2Stats


Chuck the form book out of the window? Not in Sheffield.

“It’s a derby, so you can sling the form book out of the window.”

That’s something we’ve all heard. But is it true?

It seems not, at least in the case of meetings between Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday.

In those matches form does seem to have had a bearing on the outcome, with the team that shows a form advantage winning more often than they lose.

And in this fixture that team has most often been Sheffield United.

Wednesday fans like to trot out the mantra – “older, bigger, better” – but the Blades have won the Sheffield derby more times than the Owls. They’ve achieved a higher average league position during the clubs’ league histories too.

In this article we look at detailed stats for the Sheffield derby since 1893, when both clubs first met as members of the Football League.

Since then there have been 115 league meetings, with United wining 42 times, Wednesday 36, plus 37 drawn matches. In those games the Blades have scored 157 goals and Wednesday 147.

1. Results_league1

The most frequently occurring scoreline is 1-1. That has been the result 21 times, followed by 1-0 (17 times) and 2-0 (10 times). Those scorelines account for about 41% of all Sheffield derby results*.

Wednesday’s 4-0 1979-80 Boxing Day Massacre and United’s 4-2 away win in 2017-18 have each occurred as scorelines only once. They were literally once-in-a-100-years events.

0-0 has only happened six times, so Jos Lukuhay has the dubious honour of achieving one third of them in two successive meetings at Bramall Lane.

2. Scoreline_league1

It’s hard to imagine a fixture competed in by two better-matched teams, looking at the historical sweep of things.

Average league position for all seasons since 1893/1894 puts United at 20.7 while Wednesday achieve 21.1. In seasons where the two have been in the same division United have an average league position of 16.2 and Wednesday 16.9.

3. League_pos_time_series copy3

There seems to be a clear home advantage, historically, with 50 home wins, 28 away wins and 37 draws.  United have been the home team 58 times, Wednesday 57. The number of home wins is evenly split, with 25 each, but United have a better away record, having won 17 (Owls 11).

4. HAD_league1

So, what about form?

Form has its drawbacks as a marker for performance. A particular form period could be about to end, or have witnessed peaks and troughs, for example. It could also reflect the strengths or weakness of particular opponents faced, but it seems a reasonable way of averaging performance over a given period.

In this analysis I took the points for each team on the eve of the fixture and what they had amassed six games previously.  From that I got a points-per-game average for the six games prior to the derby match. These were adjusted so that the three-points-for-a-win period matched up to the two points era. Then the form advantage for the team doing better, if any, was assessed, with an advantage of 0.33 points per game (PPG) over the other being considered significant.

By that measure Sheffield United came out as the form team on the highest number of occasions – 40 – compared to 33 times for Wednesday, and 42 times when both teams were within 0.33PPG of each other.

5. Formdist_league1

The number of times United have been the form team is close to the number of times they’ve won (40 vs 42). Meanwhile, Wednesday have been the form team 33 times, and won 36 times.

But, while the absolute numbers of times each team has been the form team bears some relation to the amount of times they’ve won, those occasions aren’t the same ones.

That would have been a neat outcome but reality is not that obliging.

However, form does have some bearing on the result and United have been the team with a form advantage – and pressed it home – a little more often.

As you can see from the chart, United have been the form team 19 times and won, 12 times and drawn, and 9 times and lost.

Wednesday have been the form team 14 times and won, 11 times and drawn, and 8 times and lost.

6. Result_form_league1

How much does playing home or away affect form?

We can see that form seems to have some effect on outcome. A look at the chart shows a correlation between having a form advantage and the amount of wins, draws and losses.

If we break down form advantage and result to factor in home/away, the result is less neat.

Blades wins – whether in-form, level in form or suffering a disadvantage – are mostly distributed around 60/40 home/away. United’s level form and in-form draws are in the same ball park.

Owls wins in general are more skewed towards the home venue, with a ratio averaging 70/30 for wins.

Another feature that stands out is the amount of times Wednesday have been the form team and drawn away (8 times against 3 at home).

7. Form_result_venue1

Can we draw any conclusions from all this?

Well, the Sheffield derby is clearly very closely contested, with the teams only a Brexit apart in terms of win percentage (52% to 48%) and less than half a percentage point difference in average league position over 115 years.

Looking at form, we can say the team with a significantly better last-six form record going onto the derby tends to win more often than not.

And, United fans can take comfort from a historical record that puts them on top more often when they have a form advantage and with the better away record of the two teams.

What about the next Sheffield derby?

At the time of writing (27 February) last six points per game form adjusted to the two-points-for-a-win used in this study puts United at 1.66 and Wednesday at 1.5.

That wouldn’t class as a significant form advantage in the study I’ve done here, and that probably shows the limits of last-six-game form on its own.

The two teams’ form is similar going into this game. The Owls have won three and drawn three, the Blades have won one more.

But drill down beyond that and the team’s those results have occurred against is quite different.

Wednesday’s good run has mostly been against teams in the bottom five plus mid-table Swansea and Brentford. The Blades meanwhile, have beaten two of the top six and drawn against table-topping Norwich as well as Aston Villa. It’s almost like the two teams have played different halves of the division.

So, can we chuck the form book out of the window?

No, I think it has a bearing, and we’ve seen that it has some effect on the outcome of games in the Sheffield derby.

But, it is also modified to a large extent by league position, home advantage and other factors, like who that last-six form has been achieved against, for example.

I can’t say for sure, but I’d guess form exerts a similar effect across all professional football.

I haven’t been able to run the same numbers on other derby games and other fixtures in general, and I’m not sure it exists in form that’s easily digestible for data analysis.  I had to collate results, league position etc and calculate form from publicly-available data, but there was no practical way of working out who each team had played in any of their preceding six-game periods to see what their form amounted to in detail.

If data for English football existed in a way that allowed those kinds of questions to be asked relatively easily it would open the way for a lot of interesting data analysis.

But never mind all that. What will happen next Monday?

I’d call next Monday’s match (4 March 2019) as a Blades away win. That’d be “Level and Blades” and away from home in the terminology of this study of the historical numbers, and an outcome that has happened six times out of 115 so far.

I’ll come back here and add the result afterwards, no matter how my prediction fares.


For those that are interested, when we look at league and cup meetings the figures are as follows:

  • SUFC and SWFC have been the home team 64 times each. (Owls once as ‘home’ team at Wembley).
  • Wins and draws: SUFC 45, SWFC 42, draws 41.
  • Home wins 56, draws 41, away wins 31.
  • Goals scored: SUFC 175, SWFC 168.


* A result of 1-1 has been the outcome in 18% of matches, 1-0 has been the result 14.5% of times, and 2-0 on 8.5% of occasions. That’s about 41% altogether.

To compare, in the Premier League between 2001-02 and 201-11 the corresponding percentages were 11.6%, 10.9% and 8.7%, making a total of about 31%.

That means the Sheffield derby has resulted in a 1-1 draw, 1-0 or 2-0 home win more often than has been the case in nearly 10 years of Premier League matches.

Teams that cross most don’t always score more goals. And why I find Norwich very intriguing

Some interesting findings off today’s EFL Championship charts, with 31/32 games played and Sheffield United set to face Reading tomorrow.

I ran a fairly simple plot on volume of crosses, added a column to calculate the ratio of right- to left-sided crosses and showed that via a colour code.

No real surprises about which teams get the most crosses in, with Villa and Sheffield United topping the table.


What does stand out about the Blades is the left-sided bias. But, that’s not really a surprise, more a satisfying graphical point on the chart.

What does surprise me is that Norwich — challenging strongly for automatic promotion — are in the lower reaches of the table for cross volume.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. If you scan down the teams, there’s no league table-like order to the way they’re arranged. So, although there are some currently successful teams near the top, it clearly is possible to fling in lots of corners and not translate that into league success. See Millwall for proof of that.

Norwich might sit two places up from the quite un-penetrative Sheffield Wednesday in the cross volume stakes, but that’s not the full picture.

We can dig deeper here, by plotting crosses against shots.


And that shows that the usual suspects —  Sheffield United, Leeds, Villa — occupying the right-hand end of the chart with lots of crosses and reddened points that show they score plenty of goals.

But, check the reddest, most goal-scoringest blobs on the chart and it’s Norwich and WBA, with relatively low cross volumes. What’s more, Norwich have bunged in something like 100 fewer crosses than West Brom.

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed Norwich in a strange position on the chart.

Recently, I started to plot amount of time in the opponent’s third against the number of passes made there.

This season, the likes of Sheffield United and Leeds are doing lots of both. Some other teams are getting to the opponent’s box a lot but not necessarily making things stick like the above two (see Millwall again).


Norwich stand out again here, with relatively low amounts of time in the opponent’s third but lots of passes when they are there.

Norwich look like a team that try to dictate play in the middle third. Then, when they get chance, go through the gears towards the opponent’s goal to exploit a less dense defence.

In other words, they create space where they want it: Right through Zone 14 and on to goal.

It’s an approach I’ve lightly obsessed about (see previous posts, re plan Bs etc). I find the idea of being able to shift/pull an opponent vertically and then get in behind quite fascinating and a potential answer to low block traffic jams.

That’s all assuming I’m reading things correctly.