Analysis: Why Sheffield United must sign this free agent urgently – Opinion

In the summer transfer window, Sheffield United will be actively seeking to bolster their midfield options, with the club releasing two experienced players in Ben Osborn and Oliver Norwood.

One name that should emerge on their radar is Alex Mowatt, a versatile central midfielder who is currently set to be released by West Bromwich Albion. With no contract extension agreed or option in his contract available, Mowatt is set to now be a free agent in the coming days.

Alex Mowatt is a realistic option for Sheffield United

Mowatt, 29, hails from South Yorkshire, making a move to Sheffield United a plausible and appealing option for both the player and the club. Known for his proficiency with his left foot, Mowatt could provide the much-needed balance to Sheffield United’s midfield. His extensive experience in the Championship, with 322 appearances, highlights his reliability and skill at this level.

An interesting subplot to Mowatt’s potential move to Sheffield United is the involvement of Mike Allen, the club’s new head of recruitment. Allen has a history with Mowatt, having identified and signed him during his tenure at Middlesbrough alongside Chris Wilder. This prior working relationship could be a significant factor in convincing Mowatt to join Sheffield United, as Allen is well aware of the midfielder’s capabilities and Wilder knows how best to utilise him.

Mowatt’s journey through the Championship has been marked by consistent performances, contributing not only defensively but also in creating opportunities and scoring some unbelievable goals from distance. His ability to adapt and perform various roles in the midfield makes him a versatile asset, capable of fitting into different tactical setups.

The midfielder can play as a roaming eight, similar to how Gustavo Hamer has been deployed in the past, but most recently he has settled comfortably into playing on the left side of a double pivot for West Bromwich Albion where he scored twice and provided five assists last season.

His extensive Championship experience, left-footed balance, and versatility make him an ideal fit for the Blades to go alongside Oli Arblaster and Gustavo Hamer in the middle of the park.

Names like Alan Browne and Lewis O’Brien have been mentioned as potential targets for United but I personally would prefer Mowatt over the other two, here’s why…

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 03: Alex Mowatt of West Bromwich Albion tackles Alex Pritchard of Birmingham City during the Sky Bet Championship match between West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City at The Hawthorns on February 03, 2024 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

What would Alex Mowatt bring to Sheffield United?

For me Mowatt is a more natural fit for a holding midfielder role than the other two, and because he is a left footer it’ll open up passing angles that Arblaster and Hamer can’t create.

We saw last season in the Premier League that Arblaster is not afraid to show for the ball when the defenders are in possession. In that regard Mowatt is the same, so I think it would make sense to pair those two up. Additionally, with Mowatt in the team it could free up Hamer and give him a licence to get forward and play more between the lines, with Mowatt and Arblaster progressing the ball from deep.

Mowatt has a great long shot on him; nine of his last 17 Championship goals have come from outside of the box. He is also capable of scoring from freekicks.

In an ideal scenario, the Blades get a deal for Harrison Burrows over the line; if this was to happen they would be adding an excellent delivery of the ball at left-wingback, and one that is somewhat of a set-piece specialist. United already have a good freekick taker in Gustavo Hamer for a right-footed option. And if the club did sign Mowatt they’d have three dead-ball experts in the matchday squad.

I think we can all agree that the team lacked proper leaders last season, with the likes of Chris Basham, George Baldock and John Egan being sidelined with injuries. Mowatt would give the squad a natural leader in the ranks having previously been captain at Barnsley and sometimes West Brom over the years.

Another characteristic the squad lacked last season was having a “big game” player. Gustavo Hamer falls into that category, but he couldn’t do it all on his own. Mowatt would fit that criteria. Despite suffering negative back-to-back Championship play-off campaigns at Middlesbrough and at West Brom, Mowatt certainly stepped up across those four games. Across those matches he registered a total of 10 key passes, two big chances created and averaging a pass completion rate of 93%.

What do the stats say?

As mentioned previously, I personally think Mowatt is a more natural fit for the number six role than the likes of Browne or O’Brien, who we’ve been linked with. In the number six position you want someone that can do the basics but can also move the ball forward when needed. Looking at his statistics on FBref, compared to other Championship midfielders Mowatt ranks in the 97th percentile for short pass success rate, and 86th in medium pass success rate. Equally, he has demonstrated the abilities to progress play by ranking in the 81st percentile for progressive passes.

While Mowatt isn’t a “natural” defensive minded player, similar to Arblaster, he still has a great defensive work-rate: he ranks in the 83rd percentile for percentage of dribblers tackled, 96th for shots blocked, and 96th for percentage of aerial duels won.

On a more creative note, Mowatt ranks in the 81st percentile for expected assists, 84th for key passes, 87th for successful crosses into the box. Additionally, as mentioned above, Mowatt is an excellent dead-ball taker ranking in the 89th percentile for shot-creating actions via a dead-ball pass.

Mowatt a replacement for Oliver Norwood?

In my mind he would be a good cheap option to replace Oliver Norwood, and looking back on Norwood’s time at the Blades everyone said “if he could carry the ball and be better defensively then he wouldn’t be playing for United”. That’s absolutely correct.

Norwood would almost always rank in the bottom 15% in progressive carries. Mowatt on the other hand ranked 68th last season in this metric.

Checking back at the stats for Norwood’s exceptional 2018/19 campaign for the Blades, here is how that season compares to Mowatt’s last season.

Norwood (18/19) vs Mowatt – Defensive midfield template

Norwood (18/19) vs Mowatt – Central midfield template

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