Chris Wilder has explained the history behind the overlapping centre-back system he has made famous at Sheffield United.
With it being used to such great effect in the Premier League this season it was become a well known tactic. Yet Wilder first introduced it shortly after he became manager at the club in 2016.
Back then the Blades were a League One team and were about to enter their sixth consecutive year in the third tier of English football.
Wilder arrived at Bramall Lane with an impressive CV that included promotions with Alfreton Town, Oxford United and Northampton Town. Yet the overlapping centre-backs were not seen during that success.
It’s easy to forget with United currently sixth in the top flight table, but Wilder lost three of his first four games in charge. The team was operating in a 4-4-2 formation, so the 52-year-old switched things up.
“I came in on the Monday morning (after losing to Millwall) and I said; ‘We need to get two upfront. We need to get Jake Wright into the team because he’s a strong character and leader’,” Wilder told the One Of Our Own podcast.
“That was the thought process. That was the origin of the three at the back.
“What was happening through that season is teams were sitting deeper and deeper. So we had to expose an area and Jack (O’Connell) was comfortable stepping in and Ethan (Ebanks-Landell) was comfortable stepping in.”
How the overlapping centre-back system evolved
Results picked up immediately and Wilder’s men would lose just three more times that term as they claimed the title with 100 points.
However, it still took some time before the wide central defenders started making their marauding runs forwards. As teams adapted to this new system, many began to sit deeper.
Wilder and assistant, Alan Knill, needed to work out new ways to break sides down. O’Connell was already being used as the left-sided centre-back, but someone was needed on the right.
Until this point Chris Basham had remained in midfield, but Wilder saw potential to switch his position.
“As a midfield player/right-back/centre half it was perfect for him. Jack with his technical ability wanted to step in,” he continued.
“It sort of developed because of other team’s attitude towards us, especially at Bramall Lane.
“The boys could do it. You look at Bash and Jack, even now with the distances they’re covering.
“To get the performances that we had, to play in the manner that we did, to get the results, it just grew and grew and developed from there.”
It is testament to this system that Basham and O’Connell remain the first choice options in the role. And they have helped the Blades to the second best defensive record in the Premier League behind only leaders Liverpool.