Paul Heckingbottom has a big decision to make involving his midfield on Saturday at Craven Cottage. The new signings Vinícius Souza and Gustavo Hamer have shown what they can bring to the Sheffield United eleven.
We have seen Souza compete frequently in duels, and often come out on top. Having a player with the ability to steal back possession, and keep the ball ticking over like the Brazilian, is a key part of any successful midfield.
While with Hamer, he has the vision to quickly pick out players in advanced positions and test the keeper from distance. His workrate is also something to admire.
But there is something missing.
Those two in midfield have played well in spells but they’ve not had a great performance overall yet. They’ve since been joined by James McAtee to form a trio in midfield.
For me, that hasn’t worked so far. It seems like the midfield doesn’t have that same stability compared to when Oli Norwood was in the midfield, like against Everton for example. That was the last match where the Blades actually had control of a game for a large period, and the midfield screened the defence well while also getting forward to join the attack.
I think it’s time to see a change in personnel and I’d like to see a change in the system too.
Firstly, I’d try a midfield four with Souza and Tom Davies as the central players. Davies over Norwood because I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Davies in his substitute appearances. Despite the poor pass against Newcastle, he’s shown he has the ability to carry the team forward with his ball carrying ability and his composure. His ball carrying is the main reason why I would choose him just over Norwood at this moment in time.
McAtee and Hamer as the wider midfield players. In possession, they should be given the freedom to play as number 10’s to support McBurnie. Out of possession, they filter to left-midfield and right-midfield positions to cover the wings.
Maybe I’m being too harsh by dropping Cameron Archer but I’ve not seen enough from him. He’s looked weak thus lacking the ability to hold the ball up. Against West Ham he had the ability to drive at a defender one-vs-one, but he delayed and eventually got dispossessed out on the wing. To add to that, he doesn’t seem hungry enough out of possession, he allows the opposition centre-backs too much time on the ball to pick out a midfielder.
This is where the Blades miss Iliman Ndiaye. As much as we miss his skill and his ability to draw defenders in, the team’s ability to pressure the defence isn’t what it was last season. Of course, the Premier League has better ball-playing defenders than the Championship so that minimises the effectiveness of our press. However, it’s clear to see that Archer doesn’t have the same quickness in his stride that Ndiaye had when he was closing down the opposition.
That also has an impact on the opposition’s ability to play through United. Allowing them more time with the ball in deep areas is giving them a chance to split our midfield lines. And then our defenders are being sucked in to defend the pockets, but because our opponents can shift the ball quickly, they are getting in behind the defence quite easily. See the first goal against West Ham as an example.
Something systematically and personnel wise has to change if we are to get a positive result against Fulham.