Chris Wilder’s Rise to the Top With Sheffield United Is No Fluke – He’s the Real Deal

Chris Wilder has guided his nearly promoted Blades to seventh position with three games to go
Chris Wilder has guided his nearly promoted Blades to seventh position with three games to go | Pool/Getty Images

Everyone loves a plucky underdog don’t they.

The small-time hero taking on the top dogs and giving them a bloodied nose. In football, these fairy tales usually come in the form of the FA Cup.

Roberto Martinez's Wigan defeated Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup final Roberto Martinez's Wigan defeated Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup final
Roberto Martinez’s Wigan defeated Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup final | IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

In recent times you think of Wigan Athletic, Portsmouth and maybe even Hull City ,who so nearly defeated Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal to extend their heartbreak. But most underdog stories eventually end in disappointment and despair. Relegation and financial woe is the translation into the football world.

Chris Wilder, however, is different. There is no luck involved. No aligning of the stars. No sequence of opposition mistakes or a star player to rely upon through a seven-game cup run.

The Sheffield United boss could finally be the English manager that many believed his predecessor’s to be.

Following United’s 3-0 victory over Chelsea at the weekend – where Wilder’s side totally outclassed and outmaneuvered Lampard’s men – the Blades have now gone 61 games since they last lost a match they were winning at half-time.

53 of those games have resulted in a victory for the Steel City side in a run that stretches back to the summer of 2016.

Remember, there is no luck involved here. Wilder’s personal record extends to his time at Northampton Town and takes the total number of games up to 83. Yes, 83.

Chris Wilder, Luke Prosser, Joel Byrom, Ricky Holmes, Sam HoskinsChris Wilder, Luke Prosser, Joel Byrom, Ricky Holmes, Sam Hoskins
Chris Wilder celebrating promotion from League Two with Northampton Town | Pete Norton/Getty Images

Such resilience, self-belief and determination are evident throughout his teams and are a symptom of what makes the Yorkshireman so successful.

Speaking to The Athletic, former Sheffield United defender Richard Stearman pointed towards Wilder’s unbreakable mentality being key to his triumphs.

“He never wants to take a backwards step,” Stearman noted. “He wants to try and win games. Whether that costs him points, he won’t change that mindset. He is very aggressive in the pursuit of points. He makes sure the players know that.”

However, Wilder is not reckless in his pursuit of glory. He marries his resilient, never say die nature with alluring pragmatism. Having predominantly used a 3-4-1-2 formation throughout United’s promotion-winning campaign last season, Wilder changed to a 3-5-2 when playing against Premier League opposition.

He recognised that the luxury of playing a ‘number 10’ just behind two strikers was a pleasure he could ill afford to indulge in against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City.

Ollie Norwood has earned plaudits for his range of passing.Ollie Norwood has earned plaudits for his range of passing.
Ollie Norwood has earned plaudits for his range of passing. | Visionhaus/Getty Images

The extra man in midfield has allowed his side to control possession better, a necessity when you have someone with the passing range that Oliver Norwood possesses at your disposal.

Just as he does the little things right, Wilder expects his players to as well.

January signing Sander Berge believes his new manager has got the fundamentals finalised like a traditional English gaffer.

“I have mostly had Dutch or German managers and the team is more 18-year-olds. Here, this is more the English way of doing things.” The former Genk midfielder told The Athletic. “This team is more built on passion and enthusiasm and we’re so good at all the basics, like defending, set pieces and keeping our structure.”

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Sander Berge has impressed since football’s restart | RUI VIEIRA/Getty Images

But to label Wilder as simply an old school coach with old school tactics, who focuses on the basics would be doing him a grave disservice. He has fused together the typical grit, strength of character and hard work that his British precursors have founded their success off with more European flair, invention and style. The best of both.  

This is a manager who beat Pep Guardiola to the LMA Manager of the Year award last season for his tactical innovation.

Wilder’s unique system of overlapping centre-backs has made Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell household names and has earned the top division’s newcomers a host of admiring onlookers.

The former Alfreton Town manager’s journey from non-league football to a potential place in Europe is refreshing in an era of instant success and multi-million-pound signings.

Enda Stevens and Chris Basham have flourished under Wilder's management.Enda Stevens and Chris Basham have flourished under Wilder's management.
Enda Stevens and Chris Basham have flourished under Wilder’s management. | James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

If Wilder’s band of mainly British men can carry him across the continent, then he’ll be sure to have the silent support of the nation. No matter who their allegiance belongs to.

Whether the Sheffield United boss can achieve the longevity that sets apart the great from the good is set to be seen, but you’d be a brave individual to bet against it. Chris Wilder is a manager who’s surely destined for the top.

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Chelsea 1-0 Norwich: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Blues Labour to Vital Win

Olivier Giroud
Chelsea FC v Norwich City – Premier League | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Chelsea grabbed a huge three points in their bid to secure Champions League qualification for next season, sneaking past already relegated Norwich 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.

The hosts unsurprisingly enjoyed the better of the first half and after Christian Pulisic and Kurt Zouma both went close for the Blues, Olivier Giroud gave Chelsea the lead with a close-range header just before the break.

Olivier GiroudOlivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud heads home for the Blues after meeting Christian Pulisic’s cross | Julian Finney/Getty Images

Pulisic and Marcos Alonso then drew smart saves out of Norwich goalkeeper Tim Krul in the second period as Chelsea pushed, but failed, to score a second.

Norwich, however, were just as poor as the hosts and were unable to test Kepa Arrizabalaga in the closing stages, allowing the hosts to ease to a slender win.

Here’s 90min‘s review of the game.

Key Talking Point

Frank LampardFrank Lampard
Frank Lampard’s men struggled to a 1-0 victory on Tuesday night | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

A vital three points in their race for the top-four, and although results may well take precedent over performances at this stage of the campaign, Chelsea were once again unconvincing using a 4-3-3 – with their struggles against a deeper block continuing.

A lack of vertical options and presence of blue shirts between the lines ensured the hosts had a tough time progressing the ball centrally, although width provided by the full-backs – particularly Alonso – did give the Blues an avenue to create in the final third as wingers Pulisic and Willian drifted infield.

Delivery from the flanks was often sub-par, however, and overall the Blues were rarely able to sustain any pressure on a vulnerable Norwich defence and retain possession in the opposition third.

There was a lack of structural cohesion and innovative build-up play, with this sort of performance resembling the turgid ‘Sarriball ‘which was often on display last season. This is a flawed Chelsea side, flaws which are exacerbated by using such a system against this sort of opposition. Lampard simply has to ditch it going forward and save it for ‘top-six’ encounters.

Starting XI: Kepa (6); Azpilicueta (6), Rudiger (7), Zouma (6), Alonso (6); Jorginho (4), Kovacic (5), Loftus-Cheek (5); Willian (6), Giroud (6), Pulisic (7*).

Subs: Barkley (6), James (6), Hudson-Odoi (6), Abraham (N/A)

While the American was hardly the star of the show, he was certainly the brightest spark in a pretty dire display from the hosts.

His crafty movement infield meant he was able to pick up possession in dangerous areas and drive at the Norwich defence, but the efficient end product which has so often been on display since the restart wasn’t quite there on Tuesday night.

Nevertheless, his superb cross from the left set-up Giroud for the game’s only goal, with his impact on this Chelsea side being one of the few positives Lampard can take out of it from a performance perspective.

Key Talking Point

Todd Cantwell, Jonathan MossTodd Cantwell, Jonathan Moss
The Canaries offered very little at Stamford Bridge | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

There wasn’t a whole lot to make of this Norwich performance, to be honest.

In the opening exchanges, they were significantly second best and despite the best efforts of Onel Hernandez to add some thrust to a stagnant Canaries attack, the visitors rarely troubled the hosts’ backline, let alone Kepa in the Chelsea goal. Josip Drmic, meanwhile, cut a horrendously isolated figure as the lone front man.

They huffed and puffed a little more after the break; enjoying a little more possession – often to their detriment, however – and attempting to win the ball back off the Blues higher up the pitch. But there was no source of penetration and it was the sort of showing which epitomised just how inferior Daniel Farke’s side have been in the top-flight this term.

Starting XI: Krul (7*); Aarons (6), Godfrey (6), Klose (5), Lewis (6); Tettey (5), Cantwell (6), Rupp (5), McLean (6), Hernandez (6); Drmic (5).

Subs: Buendia (5), Pukki (5), Idah (6), Stiepermann (N/A), Martin (N/A)

With the Canaries offering very little on Tuesday night, their standout performer was quite comfortably goalkeeper Tim Krul.

Tim Krul, Christian PulisicTim Krul, Christian Pulisic
Tim Krul denying Christian Pulisic in the second period | Julian Finney/Getty Images

The Dutchman could do little to keep out Giroud’s header from close range, but before that, he had smartly tipped Pulisic’s half-volley onto the crossbar and ensured the visitors remained in the contest in the second-half by saving well from the American once more and brilliantly sniffing out an Alonso header.

Chelsea’s final push for a Champions League spot starts with a trip to Anfield before hosting fellow contenders Wolves on the final day. The Blues also enjoy an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United at the weekend.

Norwich, meanwhile, host Burnley and visit Manchester City before returning to the Championship.

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Barcelona Make Contact With Tottenham Over Ryan Sessegnon – And May Pursue Swap Deal

Ryan Sessegnon
Ryan Sessegnon joined Spurs in 2019 | Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images

Barcelona have contacted Tottenham regarding the availability of Ryan Sessegnon, and are considering the possibility of a swap deal to make the move happen.

Sessegnon joined Spurs from Fulham ahead of the 2019/20 season, but has struggled to nail down a regular place in the starting XI since making the switch.

Ryan SessegnonRyan Sessegnon
Sessegnon has failed to nail down a place as a Spurs regular this season | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Barcelona are said to be long time admirers of 20-year-old Sessegnon and have been keeping tabs on him since his breakthrough as a teenager at Fulham. Sky Sports report that Barça have now made Spurs aware of their interest and are exploring the possibility of a swap deal this summer.

La Blaugrana had already enquired about Spurs’ record-signing Tanguy Ndombele with regards to a potential deal this summer, but have since cooled their interest in the midfielder after signing Miralem Pjanic from Juventus.

Barça are willing to let go of several players in order to restructure their squad this summer, and there have previously been claims of Nelson Semedo and Samuel Umtiti being offered to Spurs.

As for Sessegno, he joined Spurs in a deal worth £25m last summer and despite struggling to break into the side so far, is focused on finishing the season before considering any potential departure.

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Ndombele joined Spurs last summer in a deal worth up to €72m | GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

Spurs’ hierarchy, meanwhile, are keen to see both Sessegnon and Ndombele used more frequently – considering the hefty finances involved in signing both players – but head coach Jose Mourinho is still yet to be convinced by the pair.

Over in Spain, Barça are looking to rebuild in a number of positions this summer. As well as left back, a striker is also seen as a priority, with Inter’s Lautaro Martinez continually being linked with a move to Camp Nou.

In order to facilitate any new signings, though, the Catalan giants must move on a number of players. With Arthur Melo being used as a makeweight in the deal that brought Pjanic to the club, Barcelona could look to conclude player-plus-cash deals more regularly this summer – with Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal also mentioned as potential big-name sacrifices.

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Assessing Which Players Could Leave Norwich & How Much They Will Cost

Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons
Norwich’s star men could be on their way out after their relegation was confirmed | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Norwich’s relegation from the Premier League was confirmed in perhaps the worst possible way – a 4-0 defeat at home to another relegation-threatened side.

The Canaries have picked up just 21 points from 35 games so far in 2019/20 and have a goal difference of -47. Indeed, Daniel Farke’s men have scored the fewest goals of any Premier League side, while they have also conceded the most goals (despite the best efforts of Aston Villa and Bournemouth to claim this record).

But while it has been an underwhelming season to say the very least, there are a number of players n Norwich’s side who have attracted the attention of a number of top clubs.

Here, 90min takes a look at where they may end up going and how much they will cost…

Max AaronsMax Aarons
Max Aarons has attracted plenty of attention | Visionhaus/Getty Images

While Norwich’s defensive record this season can be considered fairly horrific, young Max Aarons has been a very consistent performer at right-back throughout the season. Aged just 20, Aarons has been a key figure for the Canaries, starting 33 of his side’s 35 league games.

A willing runner who enjoys getting forward to support attacks, Aarons has acted as a valuable outlet on the right for Norwich. Of course, he is still young and there are still areas for improvement, but his potential is undoubted and, therefore, it’s hardly a surprise to see him linked with a number of Premier League sides.

Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham have all been linked with a £30m move, but a move to Everton could prove very beneficial for all parties. It remains to be seen whether the Toffees will look to sign Djibril Sidibe on a permanent basis, while Seamus Coleman is the wrong side of 30 as far as the club should be concerned.

Aarons would suit Carlo Ancelotti’s style of play, adding some much needed pace and youth to a team that have struggled defensively this season. Money also would likely not be an issue.

Most Suitable Destination: Everton

Likely Cost: £25m

Ben GodfreyBen Godfrey
Norwich are said to want around £50m for Godfrey | Pool/Getty Images

Norwich’s sporting director Stuart Webber recently explained how the Canaries will be tough to negotiate with as their star men have no less than three years remaining on their current deals, while young British talents (such as Ben Godfrey) will cost more.

It’s even been suggested Norwich will demand no less than £50m for Godfrey, despite the current climate.

This figure is…well, unrealistic, especially considering Norwich’s defensive record in 2019/20. Starting 27 of his side’s 35 league games so far this campaign, 22-year-old Godfrey has played with a maturity beyond his years, leading the defensive line. But equally, he is most definitely not the finished article just yet, and it would be very hard to envisage a scenario where a club would pay £50m for his services in these times.

Nonetheless, he has all the attributes to develop into a top central defender under the right guidance, and he’s been linked with Arsenal, Liverpool, Newcastle and Tottenham, as well as Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.

With Newcastle’s prospective new owners set to target British talent, Godfrey could be a useful long-term addition. St. James’ Park could be just the place for him to continue his development.

Most Suitable Destination: Newcastle United

Likely Cost: £28m

Jamal LewisJamal Lewis
Lewis enjoys getting forward to support attacks | Pool/Getty Images

Jamal Lewis has, like Aarons, been adventurous from full-back, getting forward and looking to support attacks. But Farke’s system has perhaps allowed Lewis and Aarons too much freedom to race forward, leaving the defensive exposed.

It has been a season filled with promising moments for Lewis, but also experiences he has learned from. The 22-year-old’s performances haven’t gone unnoticed this term, with Liverpool, Leicester and Crystal Palace among the interested parties.

Crystal Palace are particularly keen, but Lewis’ most suitable destination would be Leicester. Whether Ben Chilwell stays put remains to be seen, but Lewis would be a valuable squad addition – either as a regular starter if Chilwell leaves, or providing competition if he stays. The Northern Ireland international fits the Foxes’ style of play perfectly, and his development would be aided by a move to King Power.

Likely Destination: Leicester

Likely Cost: £20m

Emi BuendiaEmi Buendia
Buendia’s vision and creativity has seen him earn plenty of praise | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Perhaps the most likely to leave, Emi Buendia has been a shining light in a very difficult season for Norwich.

Buendia has created 81 chances in the Premier League this season, the fourth most of any player. It’s also worth noting that he has played fewer minutes than the three players ahead of him (Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Trent Alexander-Arnold).

Creative, versatile and still just 23, Buendia should be playing at the highest level. He’s been linked with a number of top clubs, most recently Atletico Madrid, but a move to Arsenal may suit him and the north London outfit very well.

As a technically gifted playmaker, who also works hard without the ball, Buendia could thrive under Mikel Arteta. The Gunners are in need of a creative midfielder now that Mesut Ozil is an outcast, while the club may also struggle to sign Dani Ceballos permanently. Buendia ticks all the boxes, and he would likely cost much less than other players with his quality.

Most Suitable Destination: Arsenal

Likely Cost: £25m

Todd CantwellTodd Cantwell
Todd Cantwell works tirelessly for his side | Pool/Getty Images

He may not be every football fan’s favourite player, but Todd Cantwell has produced some real moments of quality this season – and looks set to move on to bigger and better things once the transfer window opens.

Six goals and two assists in the league in 2019/20 may not exactly be phenomenal, but it is his versatility, tenacity, work ethic and technical ability that make him such a well-rounded footballer. Among the interested parties are Liverpool – and a move to Anfield would make plenty of sense.

With Adam Lallana on his way out and Xherdan Shaqiri likely to follow, Jurgen Klopp will be in need of reinforcements – but the Reds aren’t looking to spend big, while they are also keen to not disrupt the progress of their young stars.

This, mixed with Cantwell’s attributes, makes him the ideal purchase. A useful squad member with all the attributes needed to succeed under Klopp, and one who wouldn’t break the bank, Liverpool should be looking to sign the 22-year-old.

Most Suitable Destination: Liverpool

Likely Cost: £22m

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Crystal Palace vs Man Utd Preview: How to Watch on TV, Live Stream, Kick Off Time & Team News

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has some work to do in order to secure Champions League football next season | Pool/Getty Images

Manchester United continue their push for a place in next season’s Champions League on Thursday night with a visit to Crystal Palace.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saw his side concede a last-minute equaliser against Southampton at Old Trafford last time out, a result that keeps the Red Devils just outside the top four. Securing a spot in the coveted qualifications spots is still in their hands, however, with a final day trip to fourth placed Leicester in store.

Michael Obafemi, Ryan Bertrand, Jack StephensMichael Obafemi, Ryan Bertrand, Jack Stephens
Manchester United v Southampton FC – Premier League | Pool/Getty Images

But the race coud be over by then if the 20-time top flight champions don’t take care of Crystal Palace and West Ham before their trip to the Midlands.

Palace, meanwhile, have slumped back into mid-table mediocrity, and have nothing to play for between now and the end of the season. The Eagles would like to score some goals, though, as they have been extremely hard to come by this season.

Here’s 90min‘s preview of the game.

When Is Kick Off? Thursday 16 July
What Time Is Kick Off? 20:15 (BST)
Where Is it Being Played? Selhurst Park
TV Channel/Live Stream: BT Sport (UK), fuboTV (US)

Christian Benteke will miss the remainder of the season for the hosts after seeing red against Aston Villa. The Belgian was dismissed after the final whistle for kicking out at an opponent and will consequently serve a three-match ban.

Gary Cahill, Jeffrey Schlupp and James Tomkins are also ruled out for the Eagles, the former ruled out for the remainder of the campaign after hurting himself against former club Chelsea.

Brandon WilliamsBrandon Williams
Manchester United v Southampton FC – Premier League | Pool/Getty Images

Manchester United may have a problem at left-back for their trip to the capital.

First-choice Luke Shaw had to be substituted for 19-year-old Brandon Williams after twisting his ankle against the Saints, but his youthful replacement suffered a nasty head injury of his own after clashing with Kyle Walker-Peters.

That could leave the door open to versatile full-back Diogo Dalot, who has barely featured for the Red Devils of late. United will need to field a full-strength team otherwise, as they can’t run the risk of dropping points despite the fixture congestion.

Crystal Palace: Guaita; Ward, Dann, Sakho, van Aanholt; Milivojevic, McCarthy, Kouyate; Zaha, Townsend, Ayew

Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Dalot; Matic, Pogba, Fernandes; Rashford, Greenwood, Martial

Crystal Palace have lost their last five matches after a 2-0 victory over Bournemouth upon football’s resumption all-but secured their Premier League status for another year.

The Eagles did put in a decent performance against Chelsea in their last home game, however, narrowly losing out 3-2 after dominating for large periods of the game. An 11th place finish is still in reach, if Palace buck up their ideas.

Wilfried ZahaWilfried Zaha
Crystal Palace v Chelsea FC – Premier League | Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

United, meanwhile, are now 18 games unbeaten in all competitions. The impressive streak has seen them net 48 goals, seeing off high calibre opponents Manchester City, Chelsea and Sheffield United along the way.

The January signing of Bruno Fernandes, coupled with the emergence of Mason Greenwood alongside Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, means they’re now only behind Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes on goal difference and have Champions League football firmly in their sights.

Here’s a look at each sides’ last five outings.

Crystal Palace

Aston Villa 2-0 Crystal Palace (12/07)
Crystal Palace 2-3 Chelsea (07/07)
Leicester 3-0 Crystal Palace (04/07)
Crystal Palace 0-1 Burnley (29/06)
Liverpool 4-0 Crystal Palace (24/06)

Manchester United

Manchester United 2-2 Southampton (13/07)
Aston Villa 0-3 Manchester United (09/07)
Manchester United 5-2 Bournemouth (04/07)
Brighton 0-3 Manchester United (30/06)
Norwich 1-2 Manchester United (AET) (27/06)

With Palace appearing to struggle for motivation and United having everything to play for, it would be a shock to see any other outcome than a victory for the Red Devils.

The south London club are always a threat though, especially at home. and Wilfried Zaha should need no encouragement against his former team.

Anthony Martial, Jack StephensAnthony Martial, Jack Stephens
Manchester United v Southampton FC – Premier League | Pool/Getty Images

Nevertheless, with so much at stake for Solskjaer’s men and the form of their devastating front-three, United should romp to another much-needed victory.

Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-3 Manchester United

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