Leaving aside the ridiculous ball-in-the-net-that-wasn’t incident . . .
Despite looking rusty as hell, there was a lot about Sheffield United’s performance at Villa that was familiar last night.
The key issue, however, was a failure to turn overall possession into something that could create chances.
The Blades had a lot of possession (53%), of which a lot was relatively high up the pitch (see average line stats left) and which resulted in a higher final third pass count than Villa (deep completions 20 vs 15).
All that is pretty familiar, as is the bias towards multi-pass sequences high on the flanks, especially the right.
But while the Blades had more passes than the opposition in the final third (20 vs 15), Villa had way more touches in the penalty box (23 vs 11).
That kind of stat — passes in the final third not being translated into passes in the box — was a familiar story for the Blades early in the season and I wrote about it here. The good news from that story was that Sheffield United had tended to become more direct, with touches in the box equalling or outweighing final third passes.
So, why didn’t United play as directly at Villa as we’ve been used to seeing? Numerous potential reasons:
- Two left-footed players with a habit of penetrating play were missing (O’Connell and Fleck).
- Not being able to play so directly against a Villa side that sat back rather than pressed high (see PPDA and defensive actions vs passes chart).
- Whether that was lack of ability on their part and/or lack of home pressure pushing them on is a moot point.
Having said all that, many patterns of play were familiar if not as well-executed as we’ve seen previously and while many players looked less than fully match fit/sharp, there were some individual bright spots from the likes of Jack Robinson and Deano.
Pressing high up the pitch and PPDA
These two maps show the attacking team’s defensive actions (red blobs) the opponent’s defensive 3/5 of the pitch plus the defending team’s passing. What’s clear is that only one side was committed to pressing high up the pitch. Villa generally sat back and waited for Utd.
The numbers show PPDA. That is, opponent passes per defensive action, all of which can be seen on the pitch maps.