Oli McBurnie made his first start of the Premier League season against Everton on Saturday, and he marked his appearance in fantastic fashion, but it could’ve been even better.
The 27-year-old was influential when he came off the bench in the last part of the game against Manchester City, and he carried that form into the clash versus the Toffees.
Along with his assist and key pass, McBurnie won 11 duels against Sean Dyche’s team [SofaScore], and that’s a huge reason as to why the Blades were able to score their first goal.
Even now, I don’t think fans appreciate just how intelligent the first goal against Everton was. Huge credit to Gustavo Hamer who recognises that there’s a perfect opportunity to send in an early cross, and he delivers with precision into the feet of McBurnie.
After the match, United’s number nine even singled out Hamer on his performance:
“I thought Gus was unbelievable today in midfield. That’s the first time I’ve played with him and he was a joy to play with.” [SUTV]
Because of the Scottish international’s willingness to compete and tussle for everything outside of the box, that leaves an imprint in the mind of centre-backs when there is a crossing opportunity. And you can see it in the image above. Branthwaite covers the front (zonal), while Tarkowski aims to man mark the big striker.
I did an article a couple of weeks back talking about how good Cameron Archer’s footballing intelligence is, and he fully displayed that in his first goal in a red and white shirt.
While his strike partner occupies the centre-backs, Archer knows they’ll be yards of space behind McBurnie. Of course it’s defensively poor from Everton, they should have defensive cover from a midfielder, but that shouldn’t take away the brilliance and smartness of the goal.
Despite flashes of chemistry, McBurnie believes that himself and Archer still aren’t on the same wavelength completely. But, he admired their teamwork in the first goal vs Everton:
“We’re not quite on the same wavelength as much as what we’d like to be but that’s going to happen the more we play together. We combined for the goal which was nice.”
With just seconds left in the game, Sheffield United almost won it from a corner. McBurnie’s movement fooled the Everton markers and he rose above everybody, directing the shot on target but Jordan Pickford impeccably diverted the effort onto the bar.
United’s number nine reflected on that last gasp chance:
“As soon as it came off my head I thought it was a goal and then even the second one I think it bounced off Pickers’ head and fell in to his hands somehow. It’s one of them things. Maybe we need that little bit of luck.”
After the international break United have a tough stretch of fixtures coming up starting with Spurs away, then Newcastle at home and West Ham away. If the Blades are to get anything from those games, they need McBurnie in top form. Why? Because when the pressure is mounting up on United’s goal, they need an outball, and he’s that man, along with Archer.