CAN CHRIS WILDER REPLICATE HIS HIGHS AT SHEFFIELD UNITED WITH MIDDLESBROUGH?
With Chris Wilder taking over at Middlesbrough after the sacking of Neil Warnock just before the international break, it leaves one burning question in the eyes of fans of both Boro and the Championship. Will Wilder be able to reproduce the success he had with Sheffield United in Teesside?
Wilder and his assistant manger Alan Knill have always been tactically unique and at its roots is his preferred formation of a 3-5-2, a system Warnock had used multiple times this season to varying success.
The main squad at Boro are expected to use the full two weeks of the international break to learn the intricacies of the system used by Wilder. A key part of this is the build up play and how they play fast fluid football and set up with triangles in possession. Grasping this will be key for the Boro players as it is the basis for most of Wilders’ attacking plays. This usually consists of gaining back possession and then using the ball to travel up the pitch on the floor and building up out wide before quickly releasing the ball and getting players into the final third. This tactical preference is to overload the box and it’s surrounding area’s before finding a way to get a shot off.
Moving on to position specific roles that Wilder and Knill have tended to introduce and something that plays into the overload. Which is the overlapping centre-backs, where using the wide centre-backs in the three at the back to push up the pitch and overlap the full backs at times or overlap into the final third to ensure as many bodies as possible were working the overload. The personal at Boro could have the ability to follow this system where it’s expected that Paddy McNair will be able to adapt to the role quickly, as well Dael Fry also being in that conversation.
While this isn’t Wilder’s only option, he’s been credited with being able to teach this role effectively, so we could see wing-backs taught to become more central or defensive midfielders being adapted to a role in the back three.
The wing backs will ever be crucial for a wilder’s formation as they once again take up a unique role, where they tend to push high up the pitch to overload as well as cutting inside due to the overlapping centre-backs. This position has been an issue in Teesside this season and could do with some reshaping using Wilder’s coaching or some business in January. Talks of recalling Djed Spence are floating around after Wilder was at a Nottingham Forrest game, meanwhile it’s also believed that Marc Bola can do the job for Wilder on the left.
The role of the midfield three is pivotal at times for a Wilder and Knill’s side, due to the fast possession he introduces to sides like he did at Sheffield United. Requiring two more defensive midfielders and one more adapted to attack, these roles could be filled successfully by Matt Crooks and Jonathan Howson in the defensive role while we could see a few candidates in the third position in midfield including the likes of Marcus Tavernier, James Lea Siliki and Martin Payero, all have had their moments so far this season.
Finally focusing on the two attackers, both strikers play two different roles. One that drops back and drives the ball forward, a role that Warnock praised Josh Coburn for doing so far this season. While the other striker, who is more mobile and will try and get in behind will be primarily covered by Andraz Sporar.
However, I think there’s one thing that could hold Wilder back from reaching success with his new team, and that depends on how much spirit he can get out of both his players and the fans in the Riverside Stadium. We saw how much Wilder thrived off the fans with the Blades, using both his status as an ex-player to build passion between fans, players and himself which helped push Sheffield United up the football pyramid, and then to 7th in the Premier League. The importance of these fans was really shown during COVID football where the Blades dropped to the bottom of the Premier League and relegation to the Championship.
This is what plays into the hands of Wilder his disorganized organization off the football pitch seems to thrive when there’s a 12th man backing through the fans. Which is why it’s crucial the fans get behind Wilder and the XI he puts out week by week, as it could make the difference between success and failure in his upcoming tenure.