Matt Clarke to Sheffield United: Brighton defender, on loan at Derby, linked with Blades; has similar profile to Jack O'Connell
Sheffield United have been linked with a move for Brighton and Hove Albion defender Matt Clarke, who has spent the last two seasons on loan at the Blades’ Championship rivals Derby County.
After joining Brighton from Portsmouth in 2019, Clarke has not yet played for the Seagulls – who are well-stocked in the central defensive department – and helped Derby dramatically stay up on the last day of the season, when they drew 3-3 with Sheffield Wednesday at Pride Park to send the Owls down.
Clarke is reportedly a target for the Blades – but who is he, would United get him and where would he fit in?
Who else wants him?
Derby are interested in bringing Clarke back to the Midlands, but their financial predicament at the minute may hamper those plans. Wayne Rooney has brought in former Blades defenders Phil Jagielka and Richard Stearman on trial, which may be an indication of his plans for the new season.
But it’s expected that more clubs may join the race for Clarke if Brighton signal they are willing to let him go...
Clarke’s path to the Brighton first-team is certainly blocked at the minute. The Seagulls have former Blades transfer window favourite Dan Burn, Lewis Dunk, Ben White, Adam Webster and Shane Duffy as their centre-half options, while Dutch international Joël Veltman can also play there.
The fact that 24-year-old Clarke is yet to make a Premier League appearance for Brighton, two years after signing, is perhaps an indication of his long-term prospects on the south coast.
What would United be getting?
The fact that Clarke, a left-footed centre-half, has emerged as a United target in the same week that new boss Slavisa Jokanović admitted uncertainty over the future of Kean Bryan and Jack O’Connell’s injury, is no co-incidence.
United have struggled to solve the O’Connell problem since he was forced to go under the knife last season and with the influential defender set to miss United’s pre-season programme, Clarke has been identified as a player with a similar profile.
Comparing his stats with Derby last season to O’Connell’s in 2018/19, the last time he played in the Championship, there are certainly similarities. Both players have a sweet left foot with good passing range and also don’t mind getting forward, Clarke actually averaging almost twice as many shots at goal per 90 minutes than O’Connell.
Clarke’s number of dribbles per game were slightly lower than O’Connell’s – which can be attributed to the different formations played, as well as the fact Clarke was turning out for a relegation-threatened team rather than one going for promotion – but Clarke’s percentage of successful dribbles per 90 minutes were higher than O’Connell’s.
Clarke also won more duels, both on the ground and in the air – which, again, may say a lot about how much defending he had to do in Derby’s struggling team.
But the similarities are certainly there and, with Jokanović telling the Blades hierarchy in his interview that he is open to persisting with the 3-5-2 formation that brought United so much success under Chris Wilder, the link certainly makes a lot of sense.