Preview: Rotherham v Blades

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The international break probably came at a good time for the Blades. A poor quality game against Nottingham Forest (from both sides) and a frustrating result in the most one-sided Derby in a long time had somewhat stunted our progress and led us to a record of only 1 win in the last 5 league games.

Nevertheless, international breaks serve a good purpose in terms of reviewing where we currently are in the league. Sat in 4th place and 3 points off the top is absolutely exceptional after 17 games not to mention the style of football we are playing. United fans can be the best and sometimes harshest of all, but let us not look past just how incredible a start to the season we have had. We now enter the middle 3rd of the season, one which is full of 3 day breaks between games, quick turnarounds and plenty of opportunity to put some momentum and, most importantly, points together.

This weekend sees the Blades return to action in a Yorkshire Derby against a Rotherham United side who you can guarantee will be up for the battle. I wanted to put together a quick preview of Rotherham, their style and results and how the Blades might be able to exploit some of their weaknesses in tomorrow’s game.

Opposition Report – Rotherham United

Without doubt the Millers have also had a great opening 3rd to the season. Rotherham sit in 19th place, albeit only 2 points above the relegation zone. Quite frankly with the resources available to manager Paul Warne that is an excellent return.

This Rotherham side are defined by Warne, who is very similar to Wilder in many of his principles. Warne demands hard work, hard running and a never-say-die attitude before considering anything else. Warne and his staff are also very clever in areas of the game where they can compete with the league: Rotherham have scored 71% of their goalsfrom set pieces, far and away the highest % in the league. Only 4 of Rotherham’s 14 goals have come from open play.

Their strength is quite visually aerially and their style marries up to that fact. Rotherham have played the 5th most long passes in the league this season and have the 3rd highest accuracy of long passes. Without doubt their Plan A is to hit big target man Michael Smith, who has been on fire recently, and play the game in the opponents final 3rd. They are direct but with accuracy.

Interestingly, the stats suggest that despite having a big target man Rotherham are not a crossing team but that when do they cross they are again very precise. This is not a side that is fazed by not having the ball: generally this season Rotherham have only had 42% of the possession in games. They are comfortable sitting in their shape and springing counter attacks through a direct ball up to Smith and having runners with energy and technique on the ball such as Ryan Williams or Joe Newell joining him.

They a very dominant aerial team winning the 5th highest aerial duels in the league. I think all Blades can see the style of game to be expected, this is going to be a hard fought battle and United will need to stand up to the test especially at set pieces.

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In terms of weaknesses, Rotherham give up the 3rd highest shots per game in the league and using my xG model they also have the 4th worst record for conceding number and quality of chances. Combo that with the fact that United have the highest xG in the league and create most of our shots from the 6 yard box and the feeling is quite a good one! Clearly we will be playing against a low block defence, one who will allow us to cross the ball and think they can deal with those crosses. The key for United will be to have more invention than in the Sheffield derby especially in wide areas.

Current Form

(Form table taken from soccerstats.com)

The last 6 games have been a mixed bag for United. 8 points from 6 games has been below par but performances have still been strong and deserving of results. Rotherham on the flip side have been doing exactly what they need to in the last 6 games, with 1 win and 4 draws showing a spirit and ability to grind out results even when the chance/shot data suggests they should have lost more than they have. In Rotherham’s last 4 home games they have not lost despite playing some strong opposition on paper in that time.

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Without a doubt the underlying numbers from the last 4 games and the season overall suggest this should be a win for the Blades. Looking at the numbers in xG and the shot data, either Rotherham are like Burnley in the EPL in that they will always overperform their xGA due to a defensive setup masterclass, or more likely the defence has been held up by some exceptional GK displays from the giant Rodak and the likelihood is they are due to ship some goals very soon.

Prediction Time!

The prediction game hasn’t been touched on for a while but we have been playing in the background. As always it’s 3 points for a correct score and 1 point for a correct result with Ben currently leading after an astonishing run of correct predictions leaving him 11-8 to the good!

Jay’s Prediction: “Me and the Blades need this one! Short and sweet for me here. The data says it all about how this game “should” turn out. In reality I think it will be much more hard fought than that but with a break for the legs of Mark Duffy especially I feel that we will just have a bit too much quality. Key is to score first (sounds daft I know) as Rotherham have only won 1 and drew 1 of the 8 games where they have conceded the first goal. United to win 2-0”

Ben’s prediction: “I think we'll get back to winning ways with this one. Rotherham are doing relatively well and tend to "stay in" games, hence why they have so many draws (6 of their last 8) so it won't be a cakewalk, but I'm hoping our extra quality will do the job. 2-1 Blades.”

Jay SocikComment