Sheffield United have started well on their return to the big time, gaining four points from their opening two Premier League games.

The Blades have been to League One and back since they were last in the Premier League in 2007, spending six seasons in the third tier before gaining promotion to the Championship in 2017 under Chris Wilder's stewardship.

Wilder, a Blades fan and former player, has ushered in a new style of play at Bramall Lane, which bore plentiful fruit as his side edged out Yorkshire rivals Leeds United to finish second in the Championship last term.

Over the course of last season, Wilder adopted a 3-5-2 system, encouraging his team to play out from the back and get forward in numbers.

A key feature of United's play their overlapping centre-backs and, using Opta data, we have assessed just how the Blades' system works.

 

Three at the back... with a twist

Wilder's switch to a back three propelled United up the Championship and it is a fascinating, inspired approach.

The Blades' centre-backs are commonly Jack O'Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham, while Phil Jagielka rejoined the club in the off-season and provides an experienced head from the bench if required.

United's defenders are all comfortable with the ball at their feet and, while in possession, the two wider centre-backs – typically O'Connell and Basham – are given license to push on.

That allows the wing-backs to drive further forward, forcing opposing full-backs and wingers to defend, while rival midfielders must also draw wide to cover the advancing centre-backs.

Space is subsequently opened up in the middle of the park, with Oliver Norwood often dropping deep to dictate the play.

John Lundstram – whose goal earned a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on Sunday – and John Fleck press high to join the strikers, providing United with six attacking options within their opponents' half.

High risk, high reward

The decision to commit so many players forward does, of course, leave United open on the counter-attack.

However, Wilder's side play with pace and aggression once over the halfway line, a fact reflected by their attempted 12,579 passes in the opposition half over the course of the 2018-19 Championship campaign – the most of any team in the second tier.

Of those attempted passes, 8,720 were successful, while United's players had 1,251 touches in the opposition box, a tally which ranked behind only Leeds and champions Norwich City.

Though United's wing-backs do push further up the field, Wilder's men are not overly reliant on crosses into the area, with their total of 720 coming in as the sixth highest in the Championship last term.

Once United do have the ball in the area, last season's top scorer Billy Sharp is often the player to wrap up the move, though club-record signing Ollie McBurnie may be expected to fill that role this season. 

Basham had 78 touches in the opposition box last season, ranking at 11th in the Championship, while the centre-back also created 29 chances. Only Enda Stevens provided more goalscoring opportunities for United. 

Defensive solidity

Wilder's system may allow United's attacking players to thrive, but it also enables the Blades to remain steady in defence.

Though the centre-backs may get caught out by a pass in behind, the three defenders do remain in their shape while in possession, screening the width of the pitch.

While defending, the wing-backs tuck inside, with Norwood and the two more advanced midfielders dropping back to provide a barrier in front of the back three.

United's lack of pace up top could prove an issue if the Blades are pushed deep into their third, though the arrival of Callum Robinson from Preston North End does mean an out ball is available, while McBurnie or David McGoldrick are capable of holding up the play.

Against stronger teams, Wilder's system may well be found out, but so far United's commitment to their style of play is working out just fine.

Chelsea were denied a first win under Frank Lampard after Leicester City fought back to draw 1-1 on Sunday, while Sheffield United recorded a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

Wilfred Ndidi cancelled out Mason Mount's early opener at Stamford Bridge to leave Chelsea with a solitary point in the early stages of Lampard's regime.

Leicester looked the side more likely to win the game after equalising in the 67th minute, but a couple of good chances went begging and they had to settle for a second successive draw.

Like Chelsea, Palace have also made a slow start to the new campaign after going down to a John Lundstram goal at Bramall Lane in the early kick-off - the Blades securing their first top-flight win in more than 12 years.


REDEMPTION FOR NDIDI 

Lampard's first taste of Premier League management ended in a heavy 4-0 loss to Manchester United last weekend, followed up by a penalty shoot-out defeat to Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup, and his home bow also ended in disappointment.

Chelsea got off to a positive start as Mount was rewarded for pressuring Ndidi high up the field, the English youngster taking the ball away from his opponent and powering a shot past Kasper Schmeichel for his first goal in Chelsea colours.

But Ndidi went on to atone for his error by converting the impressive James Maddison's corner, heading his team level.

Perhaps tired following their midweek exertions in Istanbul, Lampard's side were left holding on in the final quarter of the match, Maddison firing over from a good position and Jamie Vardy also passing up a presentable opportunity.


LUNDSTRAM FIRES SHEFFIELD UNITED PAST PALACE

Promoted Sheffield United marked their first Premier League game at Bramall Lane since 2007 with all three points thanks to Lundstrum's 47th-minute strike.

The 25-year-old fired home from 10 yards after Luke Freeman had been denied by Vicente Guaita, in the process joining the list of players to have scored in the top four divisions in England.

Despite having Wilfried Zaha in their starting XI, Palace struggled for attacking inspiration following last week's stalemate with Everton.

United, by comparison, are seventh in the early standings after adding to the point they claimed at Bournemouth.

Roy Hodgson says Wilfried Zaha could still leave Crystal Palace despite the Premier League's transfer window closing.

Before last week's deadline Palace rejected bids from Everton for Zaha, who was also said to be a target for Arsenal, with the winger handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move away from Selhurst Park.

Zaha scored 10 league goals for the Eagles last season after he signed a fresh five-year deal in August 2018.

Palace have reportedly set a value of £80million on the 26-year-old, and though a move to an English club failed to materialise in the most recent window, a transfer abroad could still go through.

The transfer window across the continent remains open until September 2 and, with clubs including Borussia Dortmund and Napoli having been previously credited with an interest in Zaha, Hodgson knows there could be another twist in the saga.

"You can never rule out the possibility that it might happen because the transfer window in Europe is still open until the end of the month," the former England manager told reporters ahead of Palace's trip to Sheffield United.

"It's not something I'm going to worry about because it's something that I cannot affect. There's not too much point worrying about it, if you ask me would I welcome it, the answer is no.

"I would rather that he gets his head down and commits himself to the season that we've got in front of us and commits himself to helping me, the coaching staff and the players into having another season that we can regard as a good one. That's what I would like."

Zaha, who returned late to pre-season training following Ivory Coast's Africa Cup of Nations campaign, was not deemed ready to start Palace's opening-day clash with suitors Everton, though he came on as a second-half substitute in the goalless draw.

Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick as Manchester City made a stunning start to the defence of their Premier League title by hammering West Ham 5-0.

City watched last season's runners-up Liverpool romp to a 4-1 win over Norwich City on Friday and answered with an emphatic triumph of their own.

Saturday's top-flight action also saw Burnley and Brighton and Hove Albion cruise to victories over Southampton and Watford respectively.

Crystal Palace and 10-man Everton played out a goalless draw, while Sheffield United grabbed a late equaliser to claim a point at Bournemouth.

Tottenham will host Aston Villa in the last game of the day.

STERLING GIVES CITY IDEAL START

Sterling's treble inspired a five-goal away win as City commenced their quest for a third straight league crown. The England star's goals all came in the second half after Gabriel Jesus prodded the champions ahead in the 25th minute of a one-sided affair.

Sterling's well-worked first goal came six minutes after the interval and though a VAR review found he was offside before Jesus tapped in, City did get their third when he struck 15 minutes from time.

The former Liverpool player could have added the third from the spot after Issa Diop fouled the excellent Riyad Mahrez but he gifted the penalty to Sergio Aguero. The substitute's initial attempt was saved before he converted a re-take due to VAR showing Declan Rice encroached before clearing the rebound.

Sterling was not to be denied the match ball, though, as he raced clean through to convert a pass from Mahrez in added time.

MISERABLE STARTS FOR SAINTS AND WATFORD

Ashley Barnes' double was key as Burnley scored three times in the space of 12 second-half minutes to stun Southampton in a 3-0 win at Turf Moor, Johann Gudmundsson's impressive solo goal putting the icing on the cake.

New signing Neal Maupay, who arrived for a reported £20million, scored on his debut to help Brighton defeat Watford by the same scoreline at Vicarage Road.

The former Brentford striker followed fellow substitute Florin Andone by netting in the second half, Abdoulaye Doucoure's dreadful own goal after 28 minutes having set Graham Potter's new side on their way.


SHARP GRABS LATE POINT FOR BLADES

Substitute Billy Sharp finished off a goalmouth scramble with two minutes remaining to earn newly promoted Sheffield United a 1-1 draw away to Bournemouth.

Chris Mepham had earlier put the hosts in front when he converted a close-range rebound, but Sharp ensured the Blades got something from their first Premier League game since 2007.

There was also a draw as Crystal Palace held Everton at Selhurst Park, with the visitors having Morgan Schneiderlin sent off with 14 minutes remaining.

The midfielder picked up a second yellow card for a high foot Luka Milivojevic, while Wilfried Zaha - who reluctantly had to stay at Palace having been heavily pursued by Everton in the transfer window - played the last 25 minutes after coming off the bench.

Romelu Lukaku has at last secured his move to Inter from Manchester United, having signed a five-year contract.

The Belgium international said the Nerazzurri were the only club he wanted to join after United accepted an €80million (£73m) deal.

Arsenal have finally managed to bolster their defence - and twice, too. Kieran Tierney moved from Celtic with around 11 minutes of the window to go, while David Luiz's transfer from Chelsea for a reported £8m was announced later.

Tottenham have completed the signing of Ryan Sessegnon from Fulham in a package that saw them pay around £25m and send Josh Onomah to the Championship club.

Spurs also managed to get Giovani Lo Celso over the line on a season-long loan with the option to buy, although talks for Paulo Dybala ended in frustration, the Argentina star instead staying at Juventus.

Watford broke their transfer record for Rennes winger Ismaila Sarr after landing Danny Welbeck on a free and tried to get Danny Rose in at left-back, but they were unable to get it done.

Spurs have allowed Cameron Carter-Vickers to leave, though, with the 21-year-old heading to Stoke City on loan.

Danny Drinkwater should get the chance for some first-team football - at least until January 6 - after Chelsea sent him to Burnley on a half-season loan.

Leicester City did not manage to replace Harry Maguire, but they did strike a late deal for Sampdoria midfielder Dennis Praet.

Manchester City could not resist signing one more full-back before the window closed - they splashed out a reported £11m (€12m) on Pedro Porro of Girona, who is expected to spend the season on loan with Real Valladolid.

The Premier League champions also brought in goalkeeper Scott Carson on loan from Derby County for the season.

One player who did not move was Wilfried Zaha, with Crystal Palace refusing to sanction a sale to Everton. It marked a positive day for Roy Hodgson's side, who signed James McCarthy and Victor Camarasa to bolster the midfield.

Instead, the Toffees turned to Arsenal's Alex Iwobi and are believed to have got the formalities of a deal concluded before the deadline - although they have not yet announced his arrival - while they have loaned Muhamed Besic to Sheffield United.

Aaron Mooy joined Brighton and Hove Albion on a season-long loan from Huddersfield Town, who got Trevoh Chalobah from Chelsea for 2019-20. West Brom secured Charlie Austin on a two-year deal and Grady Diangana on loan, and Leeds United snapped up Eddie Nketiah from Arsenal to boost their promotion push.

There was also a notable homecoming at Newcastle United, as free agent Andy Carroll finalised terms before the deadline, while Jacob Murphy left St James' Park for a loan move to Sheffield Wednesday.

Sheffield United have completed the signing of striker Oli McBurnie from Swansea City in a club-record deal believed to be worth £20million.

McBurnie starred for Swansea in the Championship last term, scoring 22 goals in the second tier.

The 23-year-old, who previously made 16 top-flight appearances while at Swansea without scoring, has now become United's eighth signing of the close season, signing a four-year contract as the Blades continue to strengthen ahead of their first season in the Premier League since 2006-07.

Blades boss Chris Wilder was delighted to have secured one of the club's long-term targets.

"We've had to be patient and work very hard to get Oli to Bramall Lane but I am confident he will be a tremendous success," Wilder told United's official website.

"We need options at the top of the pitch and Oli, as anyone who has watched a significant amount of Championship football will tell you, offers plenty in that area.

"He fits the profile of our transfer policy this season and is an age where his better years are ahead of him - hopefully he and the club can continue to grow together.

"I'm delighted with the transfer business over the summer, Oli is a big piece of the jigsaw, and the squad is shaping up ready for what will be a long and demanding season."

United round off their pre-season preparations away at Reims on Saturday, before kicking off their Premier League campaign against Bournemouth on August 10.

Manchester United have extended the contract of goalkeeper Dean Henderson and immediately loaned him to Sheffield United.

England Under-21 international Henderson spent last season on loan at Bramall Lane, playing every minute of the Championship campaign as the Blades secured promotion to the Premier League.

Henderson will return to the Blades for 2019-20, having signed a new deal with his parent club until 2022, with an option for a further year.

"The club has been amazing in designing an individual pathway to aid my development which will enable me to reach my potential and perform at the highest level possible," Henderson told Manchester United's official website.

"Signing this contract is such a proud moment for myself and my family; I've worked so hard to reach this point and I want to do everything I can to repay the faith the club has shown in me.

"I am looking forward to being back at Bramall Lane, the opportunity to be reunited with the coaches and play in front of the amazing fans again is one that I am relishing. I cannot wait to enjoy a full season of Premier League football which I know will be hugely beneficial for my career."

Henderson became the Blades' seventh signing of the close season, following on from Ben Osborn, whose arrival from Nottingham Forest was announced on Friday.

Sheffield United have broken their transfer record for the third time in a month to sign striker Lys Mousset from Bournemouth.

The Blades reportedly paid £10million to secure the Frenchman and have tied him to a three-year deal.

The fee eclipses the club's outlay on Luke Freeman and Callum Robinson, who are said to have joined for £5m and £8m respectively, earlier in the window.

Mousset, 23, becomes United's fifth new addition since winning promotion to the Premier League.

Manager Chris Wilder said: "Lys is big, quick and a different type of threat at the top of the pitch to what we already have.

"I think he will prove to be a great fit for us and the fact that he selected us above other options shows he's hungry to do well.

"It is a fantastic bit of business for us in the current market and we are looking forward to him joining up with the squad."

Mousset struggled for goals at Bournemouth after joining from Le Havre in 2016.

The former France Under-21 international netted three in the Premier League during his stay at the Vitality Stadium, appearing almost exclusively as a substitute under Eddie Howe.

Sheffield United have broken the club's transfer record to land striker Callum Robinson from Preston North End.

The Blades are reported to have spent £8million on the Republic of Ireland international, who has signed a four-year deal.

It is the second time this month United have paid out a club record fee ahead of their Premier League return.

Luke Freeman joined from Queens Park Rangers for a reported £5m, while manager Chris Wilder has also agreed a new contract.

"Callum fits into our structure perfectly as we look to Championship players who we feel can be successful at Premier League level," Wilder said of 24-year-old Robinson.

"Callum is someone who was on our radar a number of years ago and he has progressed how we thought he would and hopefully there is plenty more to come.

"I feel Callum is a great age and what we have paid represents great value in the current market."

Robinson hit 12 goals in 27 Championship appearances for PNE last term.

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has signed a new three-year deal ahead of his side's Premier League return.

The Blades have earned two promotions in three seasons since Wilder took charge in May 2016.

After guiding United out of League One with 100 points in his first campaign at Bramall Lane, the 51-year-old ended the Yorkshire club's 12-year exile from the top flight by finishing second to Norwich City in the Championship last season. 

"Chris signing a new contract underpins everything we are attempting to do at Bramall Lane," chief executive officer Stephen Bettis told United's official website. 

"He's been the catalyst for our success over the past few years, he is a driven individual and his focus since promotion was secured has been preparing the club for the Premier League."

Wilder is in the process of strengthening his squad ahead of their Premier League opener against Bournemouth on August 10.

Luke Freeman has arrived from QPR in a club-record deal and experienced defender Phil Jagielka is back at the club following his release by Everton.

Sheffield United have made Luke Freeman their first signing ahead of their Premier League return in a club-record deal.

Midfielder Freeman joins from QPR on a three-year contract with the Blades having paid a reported £5million fee.

The 27-year-old has created more goalscoring chances than any other player (311) since making his Championship debut in 2015-16, while no player has more than his 28 assists.

"Luke gives us balance off his left foot. His stats add up and all the eyes we've had on him have come back with glowing reports," said Blades boss Chris Wilder.

"He's one of the best players in the Championship and he can play in a number of positions. Luke is ideal to complement what we already have at the club. I think he will be a good fit for us."

Former Manchester United midfielder Ravel Morrison is also training with the club ahead of a potential move to Bramall Lane.

Sergio Aguero could set a new Premier League record for goals on the opening weekend of a season in 2019-20.

Manchester City start their title defence at West Ham, where a hat-trick would make the Argentina attacker the most prolific opening-weekend goalscorer in the competition's history.

City's bid for a third consecutive title will likely be challenged strongly by European champions Liverpool again and Jurgen Klopp's side open their season at home to Norwich City, a favourite victim of the Reds.

Here, with the help of Opta, we look at two key facts for each of the opening-day fixtures.

 

Liverpool v Norwich City

- This will be the first time that Liverpool and Norwich have met since a nine-goal thriller at Carrow Road in January 2016, in which the Reds prevailed 5-4.

- Norwich City have only lost more Premier League games against Manchester United (12) than they have against Liverpool (11), but they have conceded more goals in the Premier League against the Reds than any other side (45).

Bournemouth v Sheffield United

- Sheffield United have won each of their past eight competitive meetings with Bournemouth.

- On the only previous occasion that Bournemouth and Sheffield United played one another on the opening matchday of a league season, the Blades were relegated from the second tier that campaign (1987-88).

Burnley v Southampton

- This is the second successive Premier League season that Burnley and Southampton have met one another on the opening matchday. Southampton hosted Burnley last season on the opening weekend and they drew 0-0.

- The last five Premier League meetings between Burnley and Southampton have produced just six goals (four for Burnley, two for Southampton).

Crystal Palace v Everton

- Everton are unbeaten in their most recent nine Premier League meetings with Crystal Palace, winning four and drawing five. 

- On the only previous occasion that Crystal Palace and Everton played each other on the opening matchday of a league season, Crystal Palace won 2-1 at Goodison Park but ended the season bottom of the league (Premier League 1997-98).

Leicester City v Wolves

- Leicester City's first home game and Wolves' first away game in the Premier League last season was in this fixture at the King Power Stadium on matchday two. The Foxes won 2-0.

- In their 4-3 victory over Leicester in January, Diogo Jota became the first Wolves player to score a top-flight hat-trick since John Richards in October 1977 (also against Leicester City). He also became the second Portuguese player to score a Premier League hat-trick, after Cristiano Ronaldo.

Tottenham v Aston Villa

- Spurs will start a league season at home for the first time since 2010, following eight successive seasons with an away match to start their league campaign.

- Harry Kane has scored four goals in five Premier League appearances against Aston Villa, including two goals in their last such meeting: a 2-0 win for Spurs at Villa Park in March 2016.

Watford v Brighton and Hove Albion

- This is the second successive season Watford have hosted Brighton on matchday one. Last term, Watford beat the Seagulls 2-0 at Vicarage Road last August thanks to a Roberto Pereyra double.

- Brighton have won just one of their opening league fixtures to a top-flight season; this was in 1980-81, against Wolves.

West Ham v Manchester City

- Manchester City have won their past seven competitive matches against West Ham with a combined score line of 23-3 in their favour.

- Sergio Aguero has scored six goals on matchday one of previous Premier League seasons, more than any player still playing in the competition. Players with more matchday-one goals in Premier League history are Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer, Frank Lampard (all eight) and Teddy Sheringham (seven).

Newcastle United v Arsenal 

- Newcastle have not won their opening league game of a season since 2012-13, when the Magpies recorded a 2-1 victory at home to Tottenham.

- Arsenal have won 12 of their most recent 13 competitive fixtures against Newcastle, losing only once in this run: 2-1 at St James' Park in April 2018.

Manchester United v Chelsea

- This will be the first meeting between these Manchester United and Chelsea on matchday one of a league season since 2004-05, when Jose Mourinho took charge of his first Premier League match. Chelsea won 1-0 thanks to an Eidur Gudjohnsen goal and went on to win the league title that season.

- Manchester United have lost more Premier League games (18) and conceded more Premier League goals (71) against Chelsea than they have against any other team.

Sheffield United have waited 12 years to be back in the Premier League, but one of their new top-flight rivals is already mocking them.

Thursday's release of the fixtures for the 2019-20 Premier League season saw the Blades revel in their return to the big time.

But unfortunately for their social media team, the graphic they used to list the fixtures, which has now been taken down, included a mistake in their first home game.

Sheffield United are set to welcome the Eagles to Bramall Lane on August 17, who were listed as 'Crsytal Palace' in the fixtures.

"It's 'Crystal Palace'," the Selhurst Park club pointed out on Twitter. "Welcome to the Premier League."

Chris Wilder's side are away to Bournemouth on the opening weekend of the season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he "can't wait" to see Axel Tuanzebe return to Manchester United from his loan at Aston Villa.

Tuanzebe, 21, has enjoyed an encouraging loan spell in the Championship in 2018-19, making 26 appearances for Dean Smith's side.

The defender could yet help his side secure a return to the Premier League, with Villa holding a 2-1 lead over West Brom in the play-off semi-final after the first leg last Saturday.

Regardless of Villa's promotion push, Solskjaer seems eager to make sure Tuanzebe is given a chance in the top flight next season, with United in need of improved strength in depth at the back following a hugely disappointing campaign.

"Hopefully, now Axel can get to the play-off final and play well," the United manager told the club's media channels.

"Obviously, he's had a couple of injuries, but he's a boy I can't wait to see in pre-season for us."

Solskjaer is also monitoring the progress of Dean Henderson, who helped Sheffield United secure automatic promotion to the Premier League.

He suggested the England Under-21 international could benefit from a return to Bramall Lane for the season to come.

"Next year, let's see what we do with Dean," Solskjaer said.

"He's obviously won promotion with Sheffield United and that's been fantastic for him. If he plays a year in the Premier League for them, it might be the best thing."

Kyle Walker believes next season's Premier League title race could be even tougher as Manchester City and Liverpool prepare to take the fight to the final day.

City lead by just a point with two games of 2018-19 remaining and anything but a Reds defeat at Newcastle United on Saturday will ensure silverware is still on the line as the campaign concludes next week.

Both sides have maintained an extraordinary pace, leaving the rest of the top six in their wake, yet Walker expects a response next season.

And with City and Liverpool continuing to improve while Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United try to make up ground, the England defender expects the task to only become more difficult.

"It is credit to both teams and both managers that there is a determination to go out every week and keep getting these wins," Walker told The Sun.

"It might take 98 points to win the Premier League. I think Leicester won it with 81 [in 2015-16]. It's crazy.

"I think next year it could be even harder. People will have to step up and try to match what us and Liverpool have done this year."

Walker will also come up against boyhood club Sheffield United next season following their promotion from the Championship and the right-back has reiterated his desire to end his career at Bramall Lane.

"I started there so I'd like to finish there," he said. "I don't know if they would want me or not, but we will see.

"Even if I just do a year there and hopefully pass on my knowledge of football to the youngsters coming through.

"I'm 29 at the end of this month but still feel fit. I played my 400th league game a few weeks ago, so I've racked up the numbers. Touch wood, I can play for many more years."

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