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Sheffield United: Why things are not always as they seem with Chris Wilder

There is more to Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder than meets the eye
There is more to Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder than meets the eye

After every single game, despite his back to basics reputation, Chris Wilder sits down to examine the statistics it has spawned.

The Sheffield United manager rarely speaks publicly about his habit. But the clues, the fact he can always trot out the numbers at a moment's notice, are there.

It is a routine which is helping shape his squad's approach to the Championship season and designed, as became apparent following last weekend's victory over Preston North End, to ensure it becomes an intelligent as well as industrious unit.

The mask slipped:

Three days ago, less than an hour after watching David McGoldrick's dramatic late winner lift United to fourth in the table, Wilder strode purposefully into Bramall Lane's media suite and began to dissect the fixture.

Congratulations were offered. Commiserations, given his respect for Alex Neil, were extended too. But it was following an admission he did not like "having to win matches twice" when the 51-year-old's carefully crafted mask slipped again.

Sheffield United travel to Millwall this weekend

Sheffield United travel to Millwall this weekend

"They made the changes and we lost our shape," Wilder replied in response to a question about Preston's earlier fight-back from 2-0 down. "Our discipline went a bit as well. 

"Two nil is a dangerous scoreline but you don't have to win a game twice. We had 39 per cent possession against Aston Villa and yet people are talking about it as being one of the outstanding performances in recent years."

Passion and scientific procedure:

United's 4-1 victory over the former European champions was, Wilder identified correctly, their finest display in a long while. It was also instructive, amid the references to attitude and desire, to hear him shoehorn that figure into the conversation.

Sheffield United manager uses science and statistics

Sheffield United manager uses science and statistics

The message was clear. Despite their attacking principles, regardless of their desire to provide enthralling entertainment, there are times when he wants United to keep things tight and strangle the opposition's enthusiasm.

"There were a few times when we went chasing the ball," Wilder continued. "Times when, like I say, we probably didn't have to do it although, if I'm being honest, there are worse habits to have."

"What you've got to do, mind, is keep evolving," he added. "Keep the core of what you've got, stay true to the things you're about, but always try and see where you can improve. Especially because the margins are so tight in this division. Little improvements, here and there, can make a really big difference."

Where Wilder is different:

But he uses gut instinct and passion too

But he uses gut instinct and passion too

Wilder is frequently portrayed as an old school coach and, to some extent, it suits. Tactics and technique, in his coaching manual, are worth nothing without hard work.

But, as his side prepares for Saturday's visit to Millwall, they will also spend a couple of hours in the classroom; otherwise known as the Steelphalt Academy's video theatre.

"We use everything we can to try and get better," Wilder said. "There isn't anything we won't look at or try and do if we think it's worthwhile. The science aspect is growing and, like lots of other people, we use it as well."

Where Wilder does differ from many of his counterparts, however, is his refusal to become a hostage to the statistics compiled by analysts. At United football, for all its fascination with diagrams and percentages, remains an essentially human game.

"If you don't win your tackles, headers and races," Wilder said. "Then you aren't going to achieve very much."