Tactically speaking - Sheffield United
Alcock McGahey Collins McEveley
Davies Baxter Murphy
SHEFFIELD United switched to a more solid 4-2-3-1 formation for their third League One game of the season at Peterborough United last Tuesday evening, having utilised a 4-3-3 system in their opening two games - both of them defeats.
While it may not appear so on first viewing, the new shape allowed the Blades to play in a more positive manner, with the full-backs pushing on and the two deep-lying midfielders allowing the three attacking midfielders more freedom.
The main beneficiary from the new formation employed by Nigel Clough appeared to be right-sided midfielder Ben Davies, who found time and space in which to work - and score the late winner - in the victory over the Posh.
Alongside him, the younger Jose Baxter is Sheffield United's most creative player and he too found pockets of space in which to get on the ball and make things happen going forward. Baxter, like Davies, also got his name on the scoresheet at London Road.
The 4-2-3-1 shape also relies on the full-backs to push forward and provide width, with right-back Craig Alcock, in particular, keen to join in. The combination between Alcock and Davies will be one West Ham United will have to watch closely.
The lone striker role could be handed to a host of players, but may be best suited to the more physical presence of Michael Higdon. However, Scot Mark McNulty is also in the mix to start.
Nigel Clough likes his sides to play football.
Much of the play going forward goes through central attacking playmaker Jose Baxter, who likes to get on the ball, get his head up and make things happen. Always on the move, the former Everton youngster is a willing player who will make himself available to receive possession wherever possible.
Despite the presence of two nominally defensive midfielders in the side, the Blades play an attacking brand of football with three offensively-minded midfielders operating behind a central striker.
With two attacking full-backs too, Sheffield United are no afraid to commit men forward. While that approach may bear fruit at League One level, the Hammers may be able to use the extra space to pick off their opponents.
From set pieces, Sheffield United adopt a similar approach to the Hammers, loading the opposition penalty area with players and putting to the ball into the area of maximum opportunity. With big centre-backs, a physical centre forward and others possessing decent aerial ability, West Ham could be put under pressure from free-kicks taken by midfielder Davies.
With 46 League One matches and a promotion race to attend to, Clough may opt to hand some of his fringe players some pitch-time. However, the importance of the tie to Blades supporters may see the manager pick his first-choice XI at the Boleyn Ground.
Should he do so, the former England forward is likely to go with Mark Howard in goal and a back four of Alcock, McEveley and centre-backs Harrison McGahey, 18, and Neill Collins, 30. However, summer signing Andy Butler scored in the first-round win over Mansfield Town and could be drafted back into the starting XI at the expense of either McGahey or Collins.
If Clough sticks with a five-man midfield with two sitters, these will be Chris Basham and Michael Doyle, with the attacking trio of Ben Davies and Jamie Murphy playing right and left respectively of playmaker Jose Baxter. If the manager makes changes, teenager Louis Reed could play centrally, while Ryan Flynn or the experienced Jamal Campbell-Ryce are options on either flank.
Up front, Michael Higdon is a more physical presence than Mark McNulty, so may be preferred if the visitors go with one striker.