Alan Biggs: Sheffield United have rediscovered their identity under Chris Wilder

Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd
Chris Wilder manager of Sheffield Utd

It’ll be a while before the season takes shape but one criticism you won’t be able to level at Sheffield United – despite defeats in the opening two games - is a lack of a defined playing style.

As opposed to last season when the club lost its identity on the field. Any kind of identity.

This time Blades players have been left in no doubt from the off what is expected of them, dating back to their first day’s training under the new regime of Chris Wilder and Alan Knill.

These, incidentally, are both managers in their own right.

They have known each other long enough – from being fellow apprentices at Southampton to working together in management at Bury and Northampton – to have similar ideas, albeit with a varying manner of approach.

Neither beats about the bush when it comes to how United will attempt to climb from League One. And it’s undiluted by the lack of clinical finishing that cost a 1-0 defeat at Bolton in the league and an early exit to Crewe in the EFL Cup.

Knill’s summing up really cuts to the chase, almost literally: “It’s high pressure. . . get after the opposition. . . don’t sit off. . . get after people. . . play a real pressing game.”

What that means, above all, is an attempt to banish cliches like “parking the bus” and “setting your stall out” from the manual of visiting teams at Bramall Lane this season.

It follows that the most noticeable difference will be when United are out of possession.

The management are intent on this not lasting for long.

Says Knill: “The players really enjoy this sort of game. I don’t think any player likes sitting off the opposition. We’re a team that wants to get after them and win the ball back in their half.”

He means rather than in United’s half, leaving the team with a thicket of bodies to negotiate.

“It’s simple really and there are no secrets about it. But it would change the whole psychological backdrop of games at Bramall Lane to have the side playing on the front foot and squeezing the opposition from the start.

“Evidence of that will be sought in the opening home league game against Rochdale on Saturday.

Wilder and Knill are equally clear about how their partnership works, even though they are interchangeable and can do each other’s job.

“My focus is on the grass,” explains Alan. “Chris does the rest. He’s hands on in everything and has an opinion on most things.

“But he allows me to do what I want to do, while he oversees the sessions. . . and does the shouting, screaming and barking!

“I’m definitely good cop. He’s definitely bad cop. It works well between us and, because I’ve been a manager, I understand everything he goes through.

“I can take the weight off. We’re not close friends but we have a real close working relationship and a respect for each other.

“I’m a coach who can manage – but I didn’t really love managing, more fell into it really.”