If there is one Sheffield United tactic focused on more than any other this season it’s the overlapping centre-backs.
For Blades fans who have seen it in action for three years it may be a little tiresome. The patronising aspect to a innovation only being noticed by the mainstream now they are in the Premier League.
Yet it does deserve recognition and so does manager Chris Wilder for implementing it to such great success. Yet when it was first introduced during the 2016/17 campaign the idea did not come from Wilder.
In his article for the Guardian, football journalist Jonathan Wilson – well known for his tactical analysis – explains that Alan Knill in fact deserves the credit.
Alan Knill and the Sheffield United overlapping centre-backs
Wilder and his assistant have a working relationship that stretches back to 2008. Knill was in charge at Bury; Wilder had just left Halifax Town after the club went into liquidation.
Knill invited him to be his number two. The two men would later switch roles in 2014 when they arrived at Northampton Town. Promotion from League Two followed and in the summer of 2016 they moved together to Bramall Lane.
In League One at the time, Wilson explains that Knill came up with a solution to facing opponents who put players behind the ball. The Blades defenders had little defending to do, so why not join the attack?
Fast forward three years and we have the well oiled machine United now utilise. John Egan is the anchor to a three-man central defence and stays put.
Yet flanking him are Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell and, when going forwards, they are afforded freedom to make diagonal runs.
Wilder is the charismatic leader at United, but Knill is a mastermind on the training pitch. And the supporters know it, hence the “Chrissy Wilder and Alan Knill” chant that recognises the recent success is a real team effort.