It’s safe to say the last two games – the start of a crucial run for Sheffield United – haven’t gone to plan for Paul Heckingbottom.

Outplayed from the 15 minute mark onwards against Middlesbrough, the Blades then twice came from behind against Millwall only to throw a point away with some dire defending late on.

It’s left United just four points clear of Middlesbrough. Of course, they have a game in hand and if both sides can keep winning and United win at Reading, that gap grows to a healthy seven points.

Sheffield United face Watford at Bramall Lane this weekend and it now has a big-game feel about it now. It’s gone into the ‘must win’ category for the Blades. And in order to get that win, Paul Heckingbottom might need to consider a change in tactics.


Blades centre-back John Egan has been a pillar of this team ever since he signed. He’s been outstanding in the main, rarely dropping below a 7/10 in terms of performances.

But this weekend sees him coming up against one player who most Blades would agreed gave him the most issues last season. And that man Keinan Davis. The big striker caused all sorts of issues for Egan and United when at Nottingham Forest last season and he’s expected to lead the line for Watford this weekend.

Sheffield United v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

It’s worth noting that Davis hasn’t exactly been prolific this season. He’s hit just four goals so far and is without a goal in the league since October.

However, Davis’ presence with the pace of Pedro, Sarr, Kone and Sema around him means United need to be on their guard here. And with that, the three at the back could be exposed.

Switching to a back four, with Ciaran Clark in alongside Egan could offer more protection. It would also allow a two to sit in front in Doyle and Norwood for added steel, while freeing Sander Berge to go higher up the pitch like he did late last season.

Attacking intent

As noted just above, the switch to a back four would give United the chance to change to a 4-2-3-1 formation or similar.

That means we could have Oli McBurnie spearheading the attack, with Ndiaye and Berge playing off him. It’s similar to last season, when United had Ndiaye, Berge, and Gibbs-White causing havoc as a three up top. That would then afford Heckingbottom the chance to either go with Ben Osborn, James McAtee, or even the returning John Fleck as the extra midfielder.

At the moment, while United are creating some chances, it seems to be coming through set-pieces or moments of individual quality. Getting Berge and Ndiaye closer to McBurnie and working as a trio should, in theory, help us create more.

Of course, there are some who would say Sander Berge should be the one to come out. And given how well James McAtee has done lately, that argument might stand up.

Sheffield United v Watford is must win

A few weeks back, it would have been unfathomable to suggest there’d be any pressure on United before the end of February when it came to automatic promotion. But now, there really is.

Middlesbrough are chipping away and keep getting results. United have looked all over the place defensively of late, and that means this clash with Watford is crucial.

Nothing but a win will suffice, really. Watford will come into the game confident. They have top players in attack, and a big win over West Brom in midweek showed they are ready to kick on.

Millwall v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship
Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

But Sheffield United can get at this Watford side. For all their attacking prowess, they’ve scored 13 less than the Blades and conceded more as well.

United need their big players to step up this weekend. Berge, McBurnie, Ndiaye, and Norwood all need to perform, while that backline simply has to be better. We all know they can do the business. They just need to show it.

A tweak in formation, then, might be just the ticket for this Blades side right now.

Related Topics