Tuchel shows following Wilder might not be impossible job

Matt Stead
David McGoldrick looks despondent

Sheffield United displayed familiar steel at Chelsea. If Chris Wilder’s permanent successor can instil a finishing touch they will be fine.

 

“If you were to pick a starting eleven from the players on both teams, I’m not sure if any Sheffield United players get in. So what is the difference? Attitude, attitude, attitude. No doubting Chelsea are more talented, goalkeeper the exception for me, but they’re second best tonight for things that mattered.”

The assessment of Graeme Souness in July was as relevant as ever on this bright Sunday afternoon in March. Sheffield United had the better attitude, the better approach, the better application. Chelsea had the better players once more, but they are now considerably better at making that disparity count.

In the space of a week, they have reached a quarter-final and a semi-final with 2-0 home victories that incorporated an early goal and a late clincher on the counter-attack. But their performance levels against Atletico Madrid and Sheffield United could not have been much more contrasting.

The occasion and the opponent brought out the best of them in Europe. The low-key nature of those same factors in the FA Cup led to complacency and the worst display of Thomas Tuchel’s short tenure.

Perhaps that is understandable, his nine changes leading to a lack of fluidity and rhythm. The German has done impeccable work so far in managing such a big squad but it leads to unavoidable issues when trying to appease everyone with playing time while maintaining standards.

His substitutions were also counter-productive and handed Sheffield United a lifeline they both grasped and wasted. The Blades’ season was summed up by David McGoldrick’s inexplicable second-half miss from John Lundstram’s sumptuous centre.

They have now lost more games (24) than they have scored goals (23) this campaign.

Chelsea and Sheffield United players embrace

That victory over Chelsea in July was their last by two goals or more. All seven of their wins since have been either 3-2, 2-1 or 1-0. Hakim Ziyech’s cruel late strike prevented this from being their 21st game of 34 settled by a one-goal margin. Their current points total with nine games remaining is the second-lowest in Premier League history but this is far from a historically poor top-flight side.

Slavisa Jokanovic, the latest name linked with replacing Chris Wilder on a permanent basis, would have plenty to work with at Bramall Lane. Paul Heckingbottom and his players succeeded in proving that capitulation against Leicester to be the exception rather than the rule. They surrendered at the King Power Stadium but there was a familiarity surrounding this Sheffield United: the energy, the togetherness, the organisation. Until that final anxious touch, the ability on and off the ball.

Whoever inherits this squad will have the tools to work with. Their biggest obstacle will be similar to that which Tuchel was greeted with at Stamford Bridge: being the rebound after a disappointing end to a poignant relationship. The German has benefited from the quality of player he has been able to work with. Wilder’s successor faces the same situation on a smaller scale.

The connection with the fans will be almost impossible to ever replicate, certainly in the short-term. The football will be tough to improve but not hard to at least sharpen.

And if they can lift the hex placed on Rhian Brewster, he might be granted the immediate freedom of Sheffield regardless.