Danny Hall’s Sheffield United Column: How do Blades solve a ‘problem’ like Oliver Norwood?

John Fleck and Oliver Norwood of Sheffield United
John Fleck and Oliver Norwood of Sheffield United
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How do you solve a problem like Oliver Norwood?

I’ll rephrase, actually, as having a player with the ability, temperament and sheer class of Norwood is no issue, more of an opportunity, and watching him purr around the midfield against Hull and Norwich was a joy.

He was, in all but name, Paul Coutts-esque. Which is where the only slight possible headache for Chris Wilder might come, when the Scot makes his long-awaited return from a horrific broken leg suffered at Burton Albion last year.

How, with Coutts’ fellow Scot John Fleck arguably United’s most technically-accomplished player, do you accommodate all three? It is, on paper, at least one of the strongest midfields in the Championship and the three of them playing together is a tantalising prospect, even if by doing so either a No.10 like Mark Duffy or Ben Woodburn would have to be sacrificed, or the successful back-three system that has served Wilder so well would have to be ripped up.

Both outcomes were teased by Wilder in his pre-match press briefing at Shirecliffe yesterday, and the most the manager would give away was that he “can see a scenario where there are a lot of combinations in that group, and that’s what I need as a manager.”

It’s a fantastic position to be in, especially considering United are actually no more heavily-loaded in midfield at the end of the window than they were at the start, after effectively upgraded Lee Evans for a, on the evidence of so far at least, much more accomplished player in the Northern Ireland international Norwood.

This is where players like Chris Basham and, to some extent Ryan Leonard, are crucial. Basham has proved a revelation at right centre-half but was asked to do a job at QPR recently, and was man of the match. Leonard has also proved as adept in defence as midfield, his pace a real asset.

So although the 3-5-2 is going nowhere fast, don’t be surprised to see more tactical changes in games with Basham pushed forwards. It is intriguing to ponder if Wilder will plan another shuffle of his pack this weekend at Bolton, with the physical test they offer, and recall Richard Stearman, maybe pushing Basham again into midfield?

Wilder admits elsewhere on these pages that he is in awe of the financial power some of his rivals possess but quietly, they are building a squad capable of competing for promotion. Coutts, Norwood and Fleck will all be a big part of that.