Sheffield United linked with promising defender: What could he bring to the Blades?

Sheffield United are reportedly preparing a move for Tottenham Hotspur defender Ashley Phillips this summer.

The 18-year-old made a loan switch to Plymouth Argyle in the January transfer window and has since made 16 appearances for them in the Championship. And according to The Sun, the promising centre-back could be set to play on loan in England’s second tier next term with Sheffield United.

Phillips ascended through the ranks of Blackburn Rovers’ academy, consistently showcasing his talent across different youth levels before earning 14 appearances with the first team in the 2022/23 campaign.

In August of last year, Spurs successfully enticed him to join the top-flight after completing a deal worth £2 million.

Ashley Phillips in action for Plymouth against Huddersfield.

Ashley Phillips to Sheffield United?

This will likely be the first of many defenders the Blades will be linked with. As they gear up for next term, Chris Wilder has potential voids at right-wingback, left-wingback and centre-back, due to expiring contracts, especially if United want the option of three central defenders starting.

Phillips would certainly be a solid option to have as a right-sided centre-back in a back three. He has played this role during his loan spell at Plymouth Argyle.

A move for Phillips would likely mean the return of Mason Holgate is off the table, and given his extraordinary wages it is unsurprising.

What could Phillips bring to the Blades?

The closest player I could probably compare the youngster to is the great man himself Jack O’Connell. O’Connell became a Sheffield United legend with his marauding runs down the left side, and although he was a unit he had great athleticism to get up and down as an overlapping centre-back.

Phillips could provide United that same sort of thing down the right next season because he too has athleticism in abundance. And he’s really strong in the tackle and aerial duels.

At 18 years of age, he possesses all the right abilities to become a top level modern day centre-back in the future.

His ability on the ball is good and he isn’t afraid of attempting difficult passes. Phillips ranks in the 73rd percentile for key passes per game (compared to other Championship centre-backs, per FBref), and in the 85th percentile for through balls. Thus highlighting his ability with the ball at his feet.

As mentioned before, he is strong in the tackle and almost seems to relish coming up against a dribbler one-vs-one. Against dribblers, Phillips averages a 75% tackle success rate per game, which is enough to rank him in the top 10% for defenders in the Championship.

My view

If the Blades do secure the signature of Phillips then this would suggest to me that three centre-backs will be the primary set-up next season. And I think Phillips is an almost perfect suit for that role on the right. He is aggressive in the way he defends, he has bags of pace to get back and cover, and he can provide us athleticism when in transition either offensively or defensively.

What does this mean for our current defenders? I’m not too sure. A move for Phillips definitely signals Holgate won’t be coming back in the summer.

Anel Ahmedhodzic, who performed fantastic down the right last season could be sold. But the Bosnian has been covering the middle spot with John Egan being out for most of the campaign. And Egan is out of contract this summer.

Tags Analysis Anel Ahmedhodzic Ashley Phillips Jack O'Connell John Egan