Sheffield United: '˜We have many strings to our tactical bow' says Blades boss Chris Wilder
Most of the footballing world sees them as a 3-5-2 team with genuine wing-backs and even overlapping centre-halves, but Chris Wilder insists that his Sheffield United side have many more strings to their bow.
United's unique style of play helped them storm to the League One title in 2016/17 and then threaten a second successive promotion last season, with centre-halves Chris Basham and Jack O'Connell spending almost as much time, if not more, on the front foot than defending.
Wilder has stuck with that formation so far this season, but on occasion has switched to a back four with Basham moved into midfield.
Perhaps crucially, playing a back four would allow Wilder to accommodate Oliver Norwood, John Fleck and Paul Coutts, when fit, into the same side and also leave room for Mark Duffy, a valuable conduit between midfield and attack.
And, when pressed if he could envisage a situation where Norwood, Fleck and Coutts play together in the same midfield, Wilder said: "I can see a scenario where there are a lot of combinations in that group, and that's what I need as a manager.
"We need to be able to play different formations, which we have done recently, and we have done in our time here.
"Everyone looks at us as three at the back, over-lapping centre-halves, all the stuff that goes with that, but this is Championship football and we have to be flexible and tactical.
"We have to have players who can play in different ways, different shapes, and different combinations. Certainly, they are good enough players to have a Norwood, Fleck, Coutts combination, but Bash has played in the middle of park and Ryan Leonard came off the bench recently and did a great job for us.Â
"John Lundstram has played in there as well, so midfield is well stocked, and we have some really good players."
Coutts' comeback, from a badly broken leg he suffered at Burton Albion last season which ended his campaign, will step up shortly when he plays a behind-closed-doors friendly, with a view to gradually increasing his minutes in the U23 side.
The signing of Norwood, who has enjoyed a superb start to life at Bramall Lane since arriving from Brighton, has taken the pressure off somewhat and Wilder added: "Paul coming back gives us another option, but he has to get into the team.
"I want it to be a really big fight for him to get in, but we all know he has the ability and attitude to force his way in."
The 3-5-2 formation pioneered by Wilder and his assistant Alan Knill is vastly different to the system employed by Gareth Southgate during England's run to the World Cup semi-finals this summer, but the United manager has noticed an increase in clubs following their lead.
"The game evolves and a few more teams are playing three at the back, so we will do something a little bit different," the Blades boss added.
"There's a little routine we do on the pitch, and we didn't see it before. We seemed to be the only team doing it.
"But we came back in last week and I said to Alan that one team had started doing it, and he said another team did it the night before!
"I'm not going to reveal what it was, but that's what happens. It's a really small thing, but people have picked up on it.
"We have to be bright and smart and pick up on other teams, what they do. And we have done. We watched a team in pre-season in depth, how they dealt with a certain situation. We have to be on the ball, and ready to change.
"There are some quality coaches and managers in this division, so we have to be up the speed with what everyone else is doing."