Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Chris Wilder plays Marcelo Bielsa at his own game ahead of huge clash

Posted on 15 March 2019 by Benjamin Lang

Chris Wilder has taken a leaf out of Marcelo Bielsa’s book by making a key tactical admission ahead of Sheffield United’s clash with Leeds United.

He revealed leading striker Billy Sharp will start the match at Elland Road after being left on the bench for the Blades’ previous two matches against Rotherham and Brentford.

Breaking the mould

The Blades’ boss is usually protective over his game plan, but this is the closest he has come to replicating Leeds’ manager Bielsa’s tendency to disclose team news in the run-up to a match day.

Sharp, who is second in the Championship goal-scoring charts, boasts an impressive partnership with David McGoldrick and Wilder will hope Sharp’s re-inclusion instils fear into their promotion rivals.

The ex-Leeds striker has averaged 113 minutes per goal in the Championship this season, which is the best return in the second tier. He has also scored seven goals in nine games against his former club, meaning his return could provide a huge psychological boost for Wilder’s side.

“One thing I can say is that Billy will be captaining our team,” he said. “He has played for that club, his scoring record is great and he’s fit and refreshed to lead us from the front.

“We’re not giving any top secrets away. We felt it was the right time to pull him out, so we could plot our way through this little period successfully.”

(Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

Wilder praises Yorkshire rivals

Wilder applauded what Bielsa’s side have achieved this term, with their West Yorkshire rivals sitting one place above the Blades in the table. But victory for Wilder’s side will see them leapfrog Leeds into the automatic promotion spots as this unpredictable season reaches its climax.

“They are a club on the up,” he said. “Bielsa has sprinkled his magic dust through being an outstanding manager.

“It would be a huge boost (to win) and allow us to claw back the deficit. But Leeds will be looking to strengthen their hold.

“We are up against arguably the best team in the division over the past eight months. But whether that can continue for another month remains to be seen.”

(Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Bielsa returned this compliment by admitting he has learned plenty from Wilder’s innovative tactics this season.

He said: “They have a new style of play, they’ve been faithful to it all season, and each player is giving their best.”

What could Saturday’s match mean?

The Elland Road encounter could have huge repercussions in the race for promotion, but Wilder stopped short of describing it as a season-defining match.

“It will give a big boost, but it’s not season defining,” he said. “It would be a lack of respect from me to suggest this is going to decide what happens.

“It would be disrespectful to the division and especially the teams we’ve got to play after this.”

However, a Blades’ victory at Saturday lunchtime would be their sixth in seven games and would see them enter the Championship’s final run-in laden with confidence.

(Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

The Blades’ remaining run of fixtures sees them face a string of sides outside the top six which means they could become favourites to nick one of the top two spots.

Sheffield United will face Leeds United at Elland Road from 12.30pm on Saturday.