Talking Tactics

New clubs in focus: Three to watch from Sheff Utd

By Adrian Clarke 8 Jun 2019
Sheffield United composite

Adrian Clarke highlights the qualities of Blades centre-back Jack O'Connell, midfielder Oliver Norwood and striker Billy Sharp

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Adrian Clarke picks out three key players from Championship runners-up Sheffield United who can take the Premier League by storm in 2019/20.

Jack O’Connell

The centre-back has gone from strength to strength since joining the Blades from Brentford three years ago, playing a key role in their promotion from League One in 2016/17 and their second-place finish last season.

The 25-year-old boasts all the qualities one would expect of a player in his position: he is tough, strong in the air and a fine reader of the game.

O'Connell is also comfortable on the ball so he fits in beautifully on the left side of the three-man defence in manager Chris Wilder’s 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 system.

The left-footed defender made 54 passes per match last term, helping to build attacks from the back.

Threat down the flank

What makes O'Connell a particularly special talent is his ability to become an attacking wing-back at sporadic intervals.

He regularly embarks on overlapping runs past Enda Stevens and supplies excellent crosses. Often he play life a left-back.

In total, O’Connell set up three goals last season and scored another three. He will be an asset at both ends of the pitch in 2019/20.

Oliver Norwood

The Northern Ireland international was part of the Brighton & Hove Albion and Fulham squads that were promoted to the Premier League in 2016/17 and 2017/18 respectively, but was never given the opportunity to play for them in the top flight.

He will finally get that chance now with the Blades.

Norwood is a lynchpin for United as a cultured holding midfielder.

He is always looking to get on the ball and probe from deep, with his varied passing range making him pivotal to the team.

The 28-year-old makes more passes than anyone else in the side, and is adept at switching play and stretching opponents with long diagonals.

Norwood's passing stats*
2018/19 Per 90 Championship rank*
Passes 69.9 3
Long passes 12.5 9
Key passes 2.3 13

*Minimum 1,000 mins played

Norwood produced three goals and eight assists last season, while creating 97 chances, mostly with right-footed crosses from open play or set-pieces.

He is dangerous from dead ball situations.

After three fabulous seasons in the second tier, Norwood looks ready to make the step up.

Billy Sharp

With 227 goals since his professional debut in 2004, no player has scored more times in English football this century than Sharp.

Now 33, the striker is approaching the twilight of his career, but he still struck 23 goals in 40 Championship starts last season.

While he is an industrious player who holds the ball up well, his energy is best reserved for exploding into life inside the box.

Manager Wilder therefore prefers to give Sharp a strike partner who can shoulder some of the workload.

How Sharp scored his 23 goals
2018/19 Total
Inside box 23
Inside six-yard box 13
Left foot 3
Right foot 11
Header 9

Boasting a magnificent 30.7 per cent conversion rate, Sharp was lethal throughout 2018/19.

An instinctive poacher in the six-yard box, more than half of his strikes came from close range.

Sharp by name and nature, he shows great movement to attack crosses and scores in a variety of ways. Last term he scored nine headers and finished chances with both feet.  

His natural intuition and coolness in front of goal will give him an edge over his younger markers.

Also in this series

Part 1: Norwich need steel to match style
Part 2: Three Norwich players to watch
Part 3: Sheff Utd bring unique approach
Part 5: Aston Villa a threat from crosses
Part 6: Three Aston Villa players to watch

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