Sheffield United vs Leeds: The key battles for Sky Bet Championship clash
Sheffield United face Leeds live on Sky Sports Football from 12pm on Saturday.
Last Updated: 01/12/18 11:20am
Andy Hinchcliffe takes a look at the tactical innovations of Chris Wilder and Marcelo Bielsa and the key battles ahead of Sheffield United vs Leeds.
We know Marcelo Bielsa has done this before in other countries but the Championship has never seen someone of his calibre doing what he is doing. The turnaround at Leeds has been quite incredible, they are the masters of the press in the division and have worked it brilliantly so far.
But what Chris Wilder is doing is something very unusual in English or even world football, and Bielsa said it himself. The way he has got his side playing with their overlapping centre-backs is extraoardinary and we haven't really seen anything like it.
The structure of his team is really innovative and he has got the right players for his system, which is made all the more impressive when you consider the budget he has had to work with.
But he isn't just doing it to be unusual and to show off, it's done to be successful and it really is working. It could take them all the way to the Premier League.
Who will bend their plans?
Leeds have adapted their formation at times this season and they could do so again, perhaps by playing three at the back. Kalvin Phillips usually offers insurance from midfield but he has been used in defence a few times and could so again.
His positioning will be key to determine how Bielsa is planning to set up. They might give Sheffield United all the credit they deserve and try to match them up to try and nullify them.
Sheffield United like to see a lot of the ball but we have seen teams switch to a counter-attacking system to hurt Leeds this season and there is a chance they could do that as well.
West Brom did it very effectively against Leeds a few weeks ago, sitting deep and pressing at certain times to counter and Wilder certainly would have taken note. But I don't see him making huge changes to the way they play, especially at home.
The key battle
The middle of the park is usually the key battleground for two teams who like plenty of possession, but both sides will be keen to gain the advantage in wide positions, particularly from full-back.
We spoke before about Sheffield United's overlapping centre-backs but their wing-backs Enda Stevens and Kieron Freeman are vital as well, while on the opposite side Barry Douglas and Stuart Dallas will be key for Leeds.
Douglas has proven himself to be a fantastic outlet at left-back again, as he was for Wolves last season, while Dallas has proven his adaptability in replacing the injured Luke Freeman at right-back, even grabbing the winner against Reading in midweek.
Leeds have two of the most intelligent players in the division in Kemar Roofe and Pablo Hernandez and both will be capable of exploiting the space in behind if Sheffield United leave themselves too open in those spaces when Jack O'Connell and Chris Basham push on from centre-back and Stevens and Freeman come inside.
It will be interesting to see who Bielsa picks further forward, and he might try someone like Jack Clarke who has a bit of pace and could help Roofe and Hernandez exploit those gaps.
Sheffield United rested Mark Duffy and Billy Sharp, who came on as a late substitute, during their win at Brentford in midweek. So both managers have the options to change things up and keep the other guessing.
Wilder deserves more credit
There is a perception around Wilder and Sheffield United that simply doesn't exist. There is a presumption that he is a certain type of coach but it simply isn't the case, and he must be getting recognised now for just how good he has been.
Anyone who assumes they are an old-fashioned lower-league side simply hasn't watched them play in the last couple of years, and there are a lot of clubs now looking at what they are doing and trying to replicate it.
You can't help but admire what he has done and his recruitment has been excellent. He buys players to fit his system and the likes of Oliver Norwood and David McGoldrick have fitted in perfectly.
Hernandez has been sensational this season. We always knew how good he has been as an individual but the way he has responded to Bielsa's methods has brought him onto a new level.
His work off the ball is just as impressive as his creativity with it and that is how you need to play for this manager. You need to work your socks off.
He, along with Roofe, is the player who Leeds look at to unlock defences and get on the ball in key situations. He had his injury problems earlier in the season and his absence showed how important he is to this side.
If anyone can wreak havoc in this Sheffield United system it will be him.
Sheffield United weren't really on a dip in performances before that win at Brentford, they just weren't taking their chances. Sometimes you just need to win a game to get back on track and they have done that.
Leeds beat Reading in midweek but it would have been a draw were it not for that fantastic late penalty save from Bailey Peacock-Farrell, which has sent them into this game with a completely different state of mind.
If I had to lean towards a winner it would be Sheffield United, but I think a draw is the most likely outcome because I just can't split the two teams.