Guest Column: SIX targets Sheffield United should consider this summer... and the stats to back them up
It's been a memorable season for Sheffield United, following up last season's League One title victory with a strong showing in the Championship.
Despite their early-season promise, a play-off place looks likely to fall just beyond the grasp of Chris Wilder’s side - so thoughts of some fans have already started to turn towards the new campaign, and in particular the summer transfer window. With that in mind, and in my capacity on Twitter as lover of stats, I’ve compiled a list of six players that Wilder and his coaching staff could consider bringing to Bramall Lane, with honourable mentions for a few more.
I’ve also measured them against some United players for context, although it’s important to note that this is purely for comparision purposes and there are some metrics that see United’s players outperform the players suggested.
The first is Oli McBurnie, who many Blades fans will remember from the away game at Barnsley, when he did quite a number on our defence.
McBurnie has been a revelation for Barnsley since signing on loan from Swansea in January and his statistics are quite astonishing for a young player playing in a side deep in relegation trouble.
Since joining McBurnie has scored eight goals in the 14 games that he’s been involved in. That effort sits McBurnie eighth in the league for goals per 90 (players who have been involved in 10 games or more) and seventh in the league overall for shot accuracy. However it’s his technical and creative attributes that make him an interesting prospect.
McBurnie sits 17th in the league from strikers in his successful dribble percentage per 90. His dribbling ability was proven when he scored an outstanding goal against Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the year, gliding past defenders. Despite his languid looking style McBurnie also sits 14th in the league for tackles per 90 for forwards.
McBurnie can play to a style like United’s where the forwards are asked to press the ball hard and link up play with others (McBurnie has 1.33 key passes per game compared to Billy Sharp’s 0.47). In all a player worth serious consideration, with an all-round, all-action game style that is proving very effective in the Championship.
Another is Harry Wilson; not a direct striker but a player who again has made an astonishing impact since arriving to Hull City on loan.
Wilson has been a catalyst for transforming Hull’s form and has bought goals, pace and creativity from the right hand side cutting in on his left foot. No doubt that any deal would be a loan only due to how highly regarded Wilson is but considering Liverpool’s extensive options it would appear another loan move the Championship could be on the horizon, if a Premier League club doesn’t take him.
From players who have played in 10 or more games in the league, Wilson is the top scoring midfielder per 90 (0.77 goals per 90). Wilson also sits ninth in the league for assists per 90.
An extremely creative player who also scored goals in the Premier Division’s U23 league (10 this season), Wilson could be just the type of player to provide the spark that at times United appear to have lacked when plan A does not quite work.
Looking furher back the pitch, I like the look of Adam Webster who, for those in the know Webster has been a highly regarded defender for a long time.
Injuries and a loss of form at critical times seem to have cost Webster in reputation but I believe he has capacity to be a real defensive star and in his early 20s, he represents huge value.
In terms of how he would fit in with the Blades and our style, Webster has played in a back three on numerous occasions with England at youth levels and at Ipswich. At 6ft 3in, Webster is strong in the air winning 5.68 aerial duels per 90 (63 per cent) – this puts Webster at fourth highest in the league from defenders who have played 10 or more games, and purely for comparison purposes Richard Stearman wins 2.89 aerial duels per 90. Both are excellent defenders, but the stats show that Webster is very dominant in this area.
Webster would ideally play in the middle of a back three, and his stats on the base defensive metrics are very impressive. Webster produces 2.39 interceptions per 90, the ninth highest in the league. Again compared to current central defender in the back three in Stearman, Webster looks strong as Stearman wins 1.22 interceptions per 90.
Webster shows strong positional sense too, with 0.94 blocked shots per game (18th in the league). As a Blades defender, all our players in the back 3 are expected to be comfortable on the ball, Webster’s stacks up quite well in this department too. He attempts 35.59 forward passes per 90 compared to Stearman’s 25.71.
Webster passing accuracy percentage is much lower than Stearman’s however that can be explained by the varying styles of Ipswich and the Blades, mainly Ipswich play direct football and therefore their defenders play forwards and longer more often. I think Webster will be highly sought after this summer.
Another is well known to United fans already; Jamal Blackman.
Big Jamal has been a revelation since signing on loan in the summer. Originally bought in as competition for Simon Moore, who in my opinion is more than good enough for this league, Jamal made the No.1 spot his own.
Amongst goalkeepers who have played more than 20 times in the Championship season, Jamal has some excellent statistics. In terms of successful claims per 90 Blackman sits fifth in the league overall. His save percentage ranks better than Moore’s at 65.6 per cent compared to Moore’s 60, and his distribution also ranks well sitting him sixth in the league overall at accuracy from kicks and throwing.
In terms of his playing style, Jamal has a calming influence, able to use his size to make successful claims to relive pressure and also has a great tendency to make big saves at big moments in games.
My sixth target would be Marcus Maddison. Although the Blades appear to have an abundance of talent in the No.10 role, only one will play in current system - and sometimes none if Wilder selects three centre midfielders.
And one player who I have long felt the Blades should look at is Maddison. Adept at playing as a No.10, support striker or winger, Maddison possess lots of attributes that the Blades currently lack. Pace, trickery, creativity but most importantly consistent output and ability to open up opposition defences are the key reasons why Maddison makes my list.
This season Maddison has contributed an astonishing 16 assists and eight goals. He could well be a key signing if Wilder has plans to adapt our current tactical setup to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Then, there is Sam Gallagher. One area many fans feel the Blades could improve is having a striker with a strong physical presence. Although Leon Clarke can perform this role, he is not a physically imposing battering-ram that some feel we need for variety.
Gallagher could be a great young option in this regard. This season Gallagher has scored only six goals, but this is from a Birmingham side which (despite their showing against United recently!) have been poor at creating goalscoring opportunities all season (20th in table for expected goals).
It is Gallagher’s other stats which have bought him to my attention. To date Gallagher has won 6.40 aerial duels per 90. This ranks him 15th highest in the league but far and above in direct comparison to Clarke (3.65 aerial duels won per 90), again purely as a comparison.
Gallagher also possess strong running power with 1.28 successful dribbles per 90 compared to Clarke’s 0.38. In their function within a Wilder Blades team the strikers are expected to work exceptionally hard on the defensive side of the game too, again Gallagher is strong here with 0.72 tackles per 90, Clarke only has 0.13.
One area which Gallagher needs improvement is his technical aspects and with that his passing and contribution to build up play, with only 46.5 per cent passing accuracy in opposition half compared to Leon’s 65.3 per cent. I would be confident that in this United team, which demands all players are comfortable in possession and must contribute to all elements of the game, Gallagher would vastly improve on his passing and chance creation numbers.
Defenders – J. Egan (Brentford), J. Robinson (QPR), D. Burn (Wigan)
Midfielders – E. Oztumer (Wallsall), H. Adelakun (Scunthorpe), P. Gallagher (Preston)
Forwards – L. Gregory (Millwall), M. Eisa (Cheltenham), H. Barnes (Leicester), M. Waghorn (Ipswich)