Paul Heckingbottom has a puzzle to solve at Sheffield United - Alan Biggs
Especially when you have a problem scoring goals. And especially when you are so laudably committed to having a go rather than going quietly. But a mounting dilemma about how Sheffield United should go about trying to survive in the Premier League was delivered by two contrasting statements last weekend. Both came from the manager.
Paul Heckingbottom is picking essentially attacking teams. All three of what might be termed his flair players, Gus Hamer, James McAtee and Jordan Archer, have been included in those line-ups. Talking after losing at West Ham in United’s latest of six defeats, the Blades boss insisted: “I am adamant we are going to take these teams on.”
Separately, on the balance of his side and stopping the flow of goals against, Hecky said: “We can improve the players off the ball or pick more defensive players and then change later on.”
Those comments appear to be in collision with each other. Certainly they suggest a fundamental issue to resolve. Should Hecky compromise? On the other hand, all three players at the centre of the debate were desperately required and signed to give United a chance.
Of course, you’d want them all in your side. But I wonder how long - for balance - that can or will continue. It was different when United had a creator in the mould of Sander Berge, a big, powerful player.
McAtee, Hamer and Archer are all relatively small in stature. Is playing them all a “luxury” United can afford?
In posing that question, I’m not indicating a preference for “no.” I’d much rather the answer was “yes.” All three are of genuine top flight quality in my opinion. You need as many of those as you can get. And I applaud Hecky for keeping the positive approach that has defined his reign. But getting the blend right in a team that has shipped 19 goals in seven games this season is a difficult chemical equation.
Currently, I could easily see McAtee, for example, being redeployed for impact off the bench. It’s an enviable problem in one sense and a desperately challenging one in another. Be interesting to see which way Hecky goes on it.