Chris Wilder breakdown: What can Middlesbrough fans expect from the former Oxford United, Northampton Town and Sheffield United boss?
Now that Chris Wilder has completed the formalities of his introduction as Middlesbrough’s new manager, the wait begins to see how Boro’s players respond to his appointment on the pitch.
From a club perspective, the international break is the ideal time to bring in a new manager. They get two weeks on the training ground to familiarise themselves with the squad they have inherited as well as having the opportunity to implement their ideas and philosophies on the players.
From a supporters point of view these two weeks will feel like an eternity as they eagerly await the start of a new era at the Riverside.
But what can Boro supporters expect from Wilder’s team?
Wilder looks the part in the club’s training montage, kitted out in his Boro apparel and he’s well versed enough to sound the part in his welcoming media duties. But will that transpire on the field?
Here at The Mail we take a look at what Boro fans could see from their side with Wilder’s input.
Looking back at Wilder’s last three seasons as a manager with Sheffield United one thing which immediately jumps out is consistency. Consistency in his approach and consistency in his personnel.
While his second season in the Premier League could be looked upon as a concern, perhaps that he had been ‘found out,’ it’s worth acknowledging that newly promoted teams struggling in their second season in the top flight is not uncommon.
In 2019-20, Wilder’s Blades conceded just 39 goals on their way to a ninth placed finish in the Premier League - only champions Liverpool (33) and the two Manchester clubs (35, 36) conceded fewer than Wilder’s side.
The Blades kept 13 clean sheets in their return to the top flight and conceded more than once on just 10 occasions with four of those coming after the COVID-19 break in football when they were already well safe from relegation and playing in front of empty stadia.
The goals against column increased significantly to 63 last season as the Blades were relegated but if you go back to the 2018-19 campaign, Wilder’s last in the Championship, then defensive stability is again a point of promise for Boro fans.
Wilder’s side conceded just 41 goals in their 46 league games, the joint best record in the league ironically alongside Tony Pulis’ Boro.
And once again clean sheets were the order of the day as they earned 21 in total including a run of seven straight games before they were finally breached after 660 minutes of football.
While Boro’s defensive record this season is not overly concerning, Wilder’s track record would suggest that things will be tightened up even further.
A lot of Wilder’s success has come in the aforementioned consistency in terms of being able to put out a regular starting line-up who are all equipped to perform in the system of his choosing.
More often than not over the last three years, that system has involved three central defenders. Sheffield United earned a lot of plaudits for their style of play, particularly in their first season back in the Premier League, with their outside centre backs often seen making barnstorming runs to aid the attack.
And looking at Wilder’s history, Boro fans should expect to see a similar formation used at the Riverside with Wilder having not altered from that method since the 2016-17 season according to FBREF.
In 2019-20, Wilder used the same 3-5-2 formation for the entire season given its success. During the club’s promotion winning season a year earlier, the 54-year-old used four formations with the most popular being a 3-4-1-2 system.
Under Neil Warnock, Boro have already changed system six times in 15 games but perhaps somewhat encouragingly for Boro fans, their most successful period has come using that same 3-4-1-2 formation in which Wilder earned promotion from the Championship with in 2019 winning four of the five games it has been used in.
Once Wilder has his system in place he tends not to stray too far from it and the players who form it. In 2019-20 he used 26 players throughout the entire season. Boro have already used 25 this term.
While injuries have played their hand in Boro’s set up so far this season, Wilder already admitting it is an issue they will have to dig deeper into, looking at Boro’s squad, and their relevant success this season, don’t be surprised to see Wilder revert back to that 3-4-1-2 formation in order to utilise the abilities of playmaker Martin Payero.
The extra player in attack may allow just one of those three centre backs to be the one who maraud forward to create overloads in attack - the most likely candidate for that role would be Paddy McNair given his versatility in midfield or in defence and his ability to get up and down the pitch.
The advanced wing-back roles of Anfernee Dijksteel, or perhaps Djed Spence should he be recalled from Nottingham Forest in January, and Marc Bola will be just as important in being able to get up and down the pitch with the mindset being if teams get beyond those wing-back areas there remains three physical central defenders to get by thereafter affording the team some insurance in defence.
Wilder likes his teams to be physical, but not at the expense of being able to play good football.
“I want to see technically good footballers that can play and dominate the ball and can dominate possession and will create chances,” Wilder said.
A lot of that will fall on the shoulders of Payero and the frontmen who will get chances themselves based on Wilder’s approach from the back.
It feels like the blueprint was put in place by Warnock but now Wilder can perhaps come in and take it to the next level with the onus very much being on chasing a play-off spot come the end of the season.