A closer look at Premier League line-ups as Sheffield United change approach

Chris Wilder's Sheffield United sit at the foot of the table
Chris Wilder's Sheffield United sit at the foot of the table (PA Wire)
9:00am, Tue 23 Feb 2021
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Sheffield United have yet to name the same line-up in any two games this season as their Premier League struggles continue.

Defeat to Fulham on Saturday left the Blades 14 points adrift of safety with 13 games remaining, and yet to surpass the Premier League’s record low points total of 11.

A lack of consistency in selection may be one of the main reasons for the contrast in their form compared to last season’s settled side.

Chris Wilder, centre, with his Sheffield United team last season (PA Archive)

The PA news agency has compiled line-up data for every match of the Premier League era to identify how often a team has named an unchanged side and how often the exact same 11 players have lined up together.

Chris Wilder’s side impressed on their top-flight return last season, flirting with the European places for much of the campaign and finishing in the top half.

Their well-established, but unconventional, system was underpinned by a settled line-up with George Baldock, Chris Basham and Enda Stevens ever-present, Oliver Norwood starting 37 games and John Egan and Dean Henderson 36 – Henderson only missing out when ineligible against his parent club Manchester United.

They used only 20 distinct line-ups across their 38 games, the lowest in the Premier League – including the same XI starting seven games together, with the aforementioned players joined by Jack O’Connell, John Fleck, John Lundstram, David McGoldrick and Lys Mousset.

This season has seen a complete reversal of that trend, with 25 different line-ups in as many games and only Basham and Aaron Ramsdale ever-present.

O’Connell has played only twice, with Egan and midfield regular Sander Berge absent recently. Baldock and Stevens have also missed time, while a contract dispute and a suspension have limited Lundstram’s involvement and Mousset has played only six games.

United’s erratic approach has left Aston Villa as the top flight’s most settled side, naming only 12 distinct line-ups in 23 games.

They have started 10 games with Emiliano Martinez, Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings, Matt Targett, John McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish, Ollie Watkins and either Trezeguet or Bertrand Traore, the latter pair with five starts each in that line-up.

Leeds and West Ham are closest to matching Villa’s consistency but have each used 17 distinct line-ups this season, while the only other clubs to use fewer than 20 are Leicester (18) and Southampton (19).

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