Sheffield United: Sander Berge benefits from the 'John Lundstram' effect following private talks

Sheffield United believe they have solved the conundrum of how to get the best out of Sander Berge, with coaching staff devising a tailor-made role designed to accentuate the midfielder’s strengths.

Thursday, 24th February 2022, 4:23 pm

The Norway international produced one of his best performances for the club during Wednesday’s win over Blackburn Rovers, making a series of driving runs deep into opposition territory as Paul Heckingbottom’s side regained sixth place in the Championship.

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Despite becoming the most expensive player in United’s history following a £22m move from Genk two seasons ago, Berge has often flattered to deceive in England with last term’s relegation from the Premier League and a series of injuries stalling his progress.

But speaking ahead of Saturday’s visit to Millwall, where United hope to stretch their unbeaten run to 10 games, Heckingbottom insisted Berge’s display against Tony Mowbray’s side revealed it is now apparent, after experimenting with him in a variety of different positions, where the 24-year-old is best suited on the pitch.

“I think that was his best game and, physicality wise, he’s excellent,” told The Star. “We used him in a slightly different way, because I think that gave him the opportunity to show that physical strength he’s got by carrying the ball - and everyone else around him - up the field.

“That enables us to push as well. We think he’s really well-suited to doing that. It allows him to really use the attributes that he’s got.”

Sander Berge of SheffieldUnited runs past Scott Wharton of Blackburn Rovers during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

After experimenting with Berge in a wider position and also deploying him in front of United’s rearguard - despite footage of his European outings in Belgium suggesting he is ill-suited to shielding a defence - Heckingbottom is again expected to task the former Valerenga youngster with providing thrust through the middle at The Den.

The decision to hand him a new set of responsibilities during the clash with Rovers, which saw United snatch the points in added time following Charlie Goode’s sending-off, came about following a series of discussions between Heckingbottom and his assistants Stuart McCall and Jack Lester.

Those, together with some meetings with the player himself, resulted in the decision to encourage him to run at opponents rather than trying to pass around them. It mirrors the ploy which saw Heckingbottom’s predecessor Chris Wilder transform John Lundstram into a key member of the team which finished ninth in the top flight only 15 months after being promoted in 2019. Fathoming United needed more presence in advanced areas, Wilder nudged Lundstram higher up the pitch before watching him become a key weapon in their attacking armoury. Only weeks earlier, the Liverpudlian, now of Rangers, appeared surplus to requirements after struggling for both form and game-time.

John Lundstram (right) flourished for Sheffield United after being handed a change of role: James Wilson/Sportimage

“We tried Sander as what you might call a traditional number six,” said Heckingbottom, who will be without Jayden Bogle, David McGoldrick, Chris Basham and Rhian Brewster, now United’s record signing, said. “We think he’s really well suited to what he was doing (against Blackburn) though.

“He also showed other things in the game, like when we had to go man for man, that he can do as well.”

Sander Berge of Sheffield United shakes off Reda Khadra of Blackburn Rovers: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Paul Heckingbottom takes Sheffield united to Millwall next: Isaac Parkin / Sportimage