The 3-5-2 formation that served Sheffield United so well last season now looks stale and slow.
Manager Chris Wilder has consistently defended his system throughout 2020/21, but something clearly isn’t right.
Otherwise the Blades wouldn’t be rock bottom of the Premier League table and 14 points from safety after 24 games.
The 3-0 defeat at West Ham United in their latest outing was one of the worst performances Wilder’s side have given this term.
They’ve lost many matches, but not many where they look so inferior to their opponents. Wilder even told BT Sport after the game that his team had “taken a big step back”.
After all, they had shown an upturn in form in recent weeks. The Blades had won six of their last nine fixtures in all competitions going into the match at the London Stadium.
Three of those were against sides in lower leagues in the FA Cup, but there were signs of a fight.
That was not evident on Monday night, however.
3-5-2 no longer working for Sheffield United
Ever since Wilder switched to wing-backs early in his first season in charge at Bramall Lane, it has largely served him well.
Two promotions and a highest league finish since 1992 have followed since then utilising the system.
There have been tweaks, with the number ten dropped for a flat midfield three upon promotion to the top flight.
It worked well last campaign, with Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham having licence to bomb forwards as overlapping centre-backs.
George Baldock and Enda Stevens started every league game at wing-back and were both effective. Meanwhile, John Fleck and John Lundstram scored five league goals apiece from midfield as box-to-box players.
This started to go wrong early this season when O’Connell required knee surgery just two games into it starting. It created a problem on the left side of the back three only recently addressed by Ethan Ampadu.
Ever-presents Baldock, Fleck and Stevens have all had fitness issues of their own at various points and for the latter, this has also coincided with a remarkable drop in form.
Lundstram a massive problem
Something else which has been hanging over the club this term is the future of Lundstram.
The midfielder had been in contract talks for months, before Wilder said negotiations were over.
Lundstram will become a free agent this summer and will leave the Blades.
Yet the 26-year-old is consistently picked. Lundstram has featured in 19 of the 24 league games this campaign, starting 15 of them.
He is so crucial to the tactics that Wilder can’t side-line him; despite it being clear he doesn’t want to be part of this team anymore.
That’s an issue and further begs the question – why persist with the 3-5-2?
The system isn’t the only reason the Blades are struggling and Wilder is obviously such a well-respected manager for a reason.
But maybe Micah Richards is right. Maybe sides have “worked them out”.
Relegation is inevitable now, so why not at least try and surprise a few people on the way down and perhaps even sneak some results?
Because that certainly isn’t happening at the moment. West Ham knew exactly what was coming and brushed it aside with ease.