Sue Smith: It’s substance over style as Sheffield United not afraid to take the direct approach

When does style become more important than results?When does style become more important than results?
When does style become more important than results?
Saturday’s game between Arsenal and Sheffield United will be a clash of styles, but I would rather be in the Blades’ camp at the moment.

New Gunners manager Mikel Arteta is heavily influenced by Pep Guardiola so, like Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery before him, he is committed to getting the ball down and playing.

I am not for one second saying Sheffield United are the exact opposite, not with the quality of players they have in midfield, but they are prepared to mix things up.

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You can only praise Chris Wilder for coming up with a way of playing, with his overlapping centre-backs and high-intensity style, which has been really successful. Defensively they are very good at winning the ball back quickly and their fitness levels are unreal.

While Arsenal are tenth in the Premier League, Wilder’s Blades are sixth.

So many teams nowadays are trying to play “the right way” but what is the right way? It depends on the players you have. You can play like Manchester City if you have Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, but it is not so easy without them.

If I was a manager, I would want my team to try and get the ball down and play, but I would also like to think I could adapt to circumstances.

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It surprises me how many fans say they do not care if their team gets beaten, so long as they try to play good football. If my team sets up quite defensively and nicks the victory, I will be as happy as if they play free-flowing football and win 3-2.

I keep hearing it said Bournemouth are continuing to play “a good brand of football” but the results show it is not working. Last weekend they kept getting caught by Watford, who knew exactly how to play against them, but refused to change their approach.

Did the Bournemouth fans sit there as their team lost 3-0 and think, “Well, at least we’re trying to play the right way?” Maybe some did, but I would not have.

Graham Potter has been praised for the job he has done at Brighton and Hove Albion but they are three points off the Premier League relegation zone, which was exactly the situation on this day last year, when Chris Hughton was in charge with his more direct style.

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Contrast Brighton and Bournemouth with Burnley, who have two big, strong, powerful lads up front. Why not get it to them quickly? Like Sheffield United, Burnley have midfielders who can get the ball down and play, but they are unafraid to move the ball forward quickly when the situation demands.

According to the statisticians, the Blades and the Clarets have played the most long balls per game in this season’s Premier League, but do you know who is third in that list? Liverpool. No one would say they are not good to watch.

When Liverpool play it long, they do it with a purpose. If the ball is on and they can find the full-backs or forwards with a long pass, they are not too snobbish to try it.

I do not want to take anything away from their brilliant midfield but they are workers, not the artists you see at Manchester City, and Jurgen Klopp has come up with an approach that suits them perfectly, just like Wilder has at Bramall Lane and Sean Dyche at Turf Moor.

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I quite like the fact English football has different styles. It would be boring if everyone played the right way. Jose Mourinho gets criticised as yesterday’s man and Tottenham Hotspur set up quite defensively against Liverpool last week, but if Son Heung-min and Giovanni Lo Celso had taken good chances late on, they might have won.

Would people then have been calling it a tactical masterclass?

We have seen managers get sacked, or have fans dead against them from the start, because of perceptions about how they play.

Nigel Pearson’s appointment at Watford was far from popular, but he has done an absolutely fantastic job.

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In last week’s column I was full of praise for Leeds United’s football at Arsenal in the FA Cup, but that day Sheffield Wednesday went to Elland Road and did a job on them, winning 2-0 with their giant targetman Atdhe Nuhiu having a hand in both goals.

You would like to think the majority of Sheffield Wednesday fans went home delighted, even if their team maybe did not match the Whites when it came to getting the ball down and playing

In an ideal world, we would all like our teams to play beautiful football and win every week. In the real world, I will take whatever style brings results.