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Albion Analytics preview: Sheffield United

Albion host bottom of the table Sheffield United on Sunday.

By Liam Tharme • 19 December 2020

By Paul Hazlewood
Steven Alzate was impressive out of possession according to Albion Analytics.

Albion's second game of the week sees them take on Sheffield United this Sunday, which Liam Tharme of Albion Analytics has taken a closer look at.

Brighton host rock-bottom Sheffield United on Sunday for just the second time ever at the Amex. Since promotion to the top-flight, Brighton are unbeaten in six of their eight home games on a Sunday (3 wins, 3 draws), with only Manchester City and Chelsea able to take more than a point from Albion. 

Last season marked Sheffield United's first season back in the Premier League since 2007. Despite being tipped for relegation, Chris Wilder's men stormed to an impressive 54 points, the second-best points tally recorded by a newly promoted side since 2010 – only Wolves (57 points – 2018/19 season) have bettered such a feat. Fundamental to their success was a resolute defence. Only three teams could better their 13 clean sheets and 39 goals conceded, with only Southampton (1,276) recording more clearances than the Blades (1,244).

It is a different story this season. They have failed to win any of their 13 away games since football restarted in June – overlapping the end of last season and the start of the current campaign. Only West Brom (26) have conceded more goals and United are the only side in the division yet to record a clean sheet and having lost 12 of their 13 opening fixtures.

It is the worst start by any side in Premier League history, with only five clubs having failed to win by this point in the season.

Prior to the midweek fixtures, Aaron Ramsdale had already recorded 45 saves and faced 67 shots on target, figures which rank him among the top five busiest goalkeepers in the league. Last season, he recorded six saves for Bournemouth in the 3-1 win over Brighton, a figure that he only bettered on two occasions.

Robert Sanchez kept his first Premier League clean sheet in the goalless draw at Fulham.

Robert Sanchez recorded an equally impressive performance at Fulham on Wednesday. The Spaniard saved four shots on his way to keeping a clean sheet at Craven Cottage, the first time Albion have achieved this feat in the fixture since 2014. That draw was the 13th time since promotion that the Seagulls have shared the spoils without any goals being scored, the most of any side in that time.

The spoils were shared the last time these Albion met the Blades back in February. That day, Brighton pressed 123 times in the defensive third, recorded 27 blocks and cleared the ball 71 times – their biggest output in any of those defensive metrics across the entire season.

Oliver Norwood pulled the strings at Bramall Lane in February. He completed the most passes (72), created the most chances (3) and recovered the ball the second-most times (8) of any player on the pitch. Norwood ranked inside the top ten players in the Premier League for long passes completed last season (404), with only Chelsea's Jorginho (238) bettering his 232 completed passes to the final third.

The Northern Irishman was part of Albion's promotion winning side in 2017, assisting five times in 37 appearances. He went on to win promotion with Fulham as well as with the Blades. Connections between the clubs extend to the dugout, too. Wilder joined Brighton in 1999 from Sheffield United and appeared 11 times for the Seagulls.

Neal Maupay pressed 41 times during away draw last season, the most of any Albion player. He also topped the Brighton charts for shots taken (3) and touches in the opposition box (3) in the fixture, heading home the equaliser for his eighth goal of the season. The Frenchman has been directly involved in 13 goals (9 goals, 4 assists) in 19 games against Yorkshire based opposition.

Adam Webster has moved the ball the equivalent of over 64 lengths of the pitch at the Amex.

Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster each recorded 13 clearances at Fulham on Wednesday. No Albion player has progressed the ball further than Webster this season. He has dribbled the ball 2,490 yards and passed it 4,880 yards and, combining those metrics, he has moved the ball over 64 lengths of the Amex pitch.

Against Fulham, Webster completed 53 of the 70 passes he attempted – progressing the ball 500 yards – intercepted the ball on five occasions and won five of the seven aerial duels he was involved in. His performance in those metrics was the best of any Albion player. Brighton's No.4 is unbeaten in four of his last five against Sunday's opposition, winning and drawing twice. It was Webster's header which set up Neal Maupay to equalise at Bramall Lane, with all four of the centre-back's goal involvements last season coming on the road at Arsenal, Tottenham, Aston Villa, Sheffield United.

Though Webster may be awaiting his first Amex goal involvement, Oli McBurnie got his last season, netting the match-winner in the first half. The Scotsman appeared 44 times under Graham Potter when the pair were at Swansea, scoring 24 times and assisting a further four goals, his most goals scored under any single manager to date. The 24-year-old has been involved in (154) and won the most aerial duels of any player (85) in the Premier League this season.

His goal-scoring prowess has been less evident this season, though. It took McBurnie 20 shots to score his first Premier League goal. A lack of cutting edge has been the pattern for the Blades this season, who have created chances totalling 13.7 'Expected Goals' but scored just six times, an underachievement bigger than any other side in the division.

The Blades shared 39 shots with West Brom in their 1-0 defeat at the Hawthorns, the joint-most in any Premier League game up to that point this season. Their 'Expected Goals' total of 3.3 is the highest a side has recorded without scoring since Arsenal against Southampton back in 2016.

David McGoldrick suffered from similarly wasteful finishing last season, scoring just twice from 6.8 'Expected Goals.' He underperformed his expected rate of scoring more than any player in the league. That said, the Irishman bagged a brace in Sheffield United's most recent fixture – Thursday's 3-2 defeat to Manchester United - and has netted three times in eight appearances against the Albion, though he is yet to do so for the Blades. 

George Baldock assisted McGoldrick at the Emirates last season with the wing-back also assisting McBurnie for his first Sheffield United goal – an equaliser against Leicester on matchday three last season. The wing-back is brother of Sam Baldock, who featured 94 times for the Albion and alongside Norwood was part of the promotion winning side. He was involved in 38 goals (20 goals, 18 assists) in 94 club appearances, playing for the Albion in both the Championship and Premier League.

George Baldock has been a key player under Wilder. This season he ranks top among the Bladesmen for touches in the final third (307), attempted crosses (27) and passes completed into the penalty area (17). Additionally, Baldock sits second for shot-creating actions (18) and successful pressures (44).

Steven Alzate put in a strong display at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night.

Successful pressures are a specialty of Steven Alzate. The Camden-born Colombian international successfully pressed eight times at Fulham (a successful press is one that leads to a possession turnover inside five seconds), recording 23 pressures in total. Such an output was the best of any Brighton player in either metric, with the 22-year-old joint-top for shot-creating actions (3). Alzate started at Craven Cottage for the first time since the loss away at Everton in October.

Phil Jagielka played 385 times for Everton and is now back at Sheffield United for his second spell. The veteran defender played for the Blades the last time Brighton were victorious over them when goals from Leon Knight and Richard Carpenter were enough for Brighton to bring all three points back from Bramall Lane.

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