Sheffield United: The tricks and tactics getting the best out of ex-Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster

On Saturday afternoon, as the first-half of their game against Luton Town was drawing to a close, two members of Sheffield United’s analytics department were already busy at work inside the first team dressing room.

Monday, 24th January 2022, 3:30 pm

Huddled over a laptop, after creating a space on a table covered with bandages, gels and liniments, they spent a good five minutes scrolling through footage of Rhian Brewster in action. Then, after splicing it all together - the good, the bad and the indifferent - they waited to present it to Jack Lester; the club’s new head of performance and a former United centre-forward himself.

“We quickly showed him a few things during the break,” Paul Heckingbottom, the United manager, said after Brewster’s clinical finish had later put his side on the path to victory.

“You never stop learning and Rhian, well, he’s got a real willingness to do that. He’s always doing extra analysis and that’s great to see. You’ve only got one career and it’s only short lived. So that’s why it’s brilliant to see people like him really trying to make the most of it. It’s the attitude you want.”

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Sheffield United striker Rhian Brewster with Jack Robinson, who was also on target during the win over Luton Town: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

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Brewser and Lester have shared a lot of time together over the past few weeks. And much of it, as Heckingbottom told The Star following the win over Nathan Jones’ men, has been spent inside the multimedia suite at United’s training complex.

There, sometimes accompanied by one of the videographers whose job it is to film the sessions United’s coaching staff put on, the two men study not only Brewster’s contribution to them but also film of other strikers in action.

It can be pain-staking work, as lines detailing runs and positioning are drawn across the big screen which dominates one wall of the room. But it is rewarding too, with Brewster’s second-half strike against Luton his third in six senior appearances. The former Liverpool youngster, who went more than a thousand minutes without goal following his record breaking move 15 months ago, was also on target during a recent development squad fixture as he made his way back from injury.

Stuart McCall, Paul Heckingbottom and Jack Lester at the Randox Academy, Sheffield United's training ground: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“We showed him (Brewster) videos during the interval of what we wanted from him, what we wanted more of,” Heckingbottom continued. “One of the big things Jack, who like I say has been doing lots with him, wants is to do with positioning. He wants, we want, Rhian to be more in front of the goalposts more of the time because that’s where we know he can really do damage.

“It’s one of the reasons we were so pleased with how he got his goal (against Luton), because that’s where he was - right in front of the goalposts.

“But there’s no point in showing people loads of stuff that isn’t really relevant because it doesn’t fit in with what we’re doing. There has to be some context to it, otherwise things just get confusing. So it’s all picked really carefully.”

Rhian Brewster of Sheffield United is pulled down by Reece Burke of Luton Town resulting in a red card for the Luton man during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

Heckingbottom’s admission about level of thought which goes into choosing exactly what to show Brewster - and when - provides an insight into how the 44-year-old, his assistant Stuart McCall and of course Lester, are attempting to combine old school methods with new-school science in an attempt to get the best out those under their command.

Every member of the side involved in last weekend’s Championship fixture were subjected to the same treatment as Brewster. Albeit to differing degrees. And the same forensic planning will take place ahead of Saturday’s visit to Peterborough, with only footage of rivals who play in a similar way to United making the final cut.

“Every manager has different ideas but you all have to be on the same page on the pitch,” Heckingbottom said. “There has to be a theme to it. People have to be able to look at it and see how it relates to them.”

“We want to give them more detail. Rhian had a good half an hour or so on the video clips with Jack beforehand. If it’s relevant to your game then you can learn.”

After a torrid start to life at United, which saw people question both the wisdom of their decision to make him the most expensive signing in the club’s history and also his own footballing ability, Brewster is in a good place right now. On and off the pitch, where he recently spoke about how his faith, family and friends had all been a source of invaluable support during a barren run in United colours which lasted 31 matches before ending during August’s Carabao Cup tie with Carlisle.

He was on target again when United travelled to Blackburn Rovers in the league three months later, before also finding the back of the net when Bristol City were dispatched 2-0 on November 28. That was Heckingbottom’s first game in charge, having replaced Slavisa Jokanovic at the helm 72 hours earlier.

Speaking soon after his appointment, the former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian chief explained how the make-up of United’s backroom staff would allow him to stage a series of masterclasses at Shirecliffe - focusing on specific positions. McCall, once the mainstay of both the Rangers and Everton midfields, planned to arrange them for midfielders. Lester, previously of Nottingham Forest and Grimsby Town as well as United, would be handed special responsibility for improving their attackers. Heckingbottom, an ex-full-back, could devote time to United’s defenders when he wasn’t taking care of his other responsibilities.

Brewster appears to be reaping big rewards from the new approach. According to the in-game calculations, he attempted more shots than passes during the meeting with Luton. Despite appearing to test the patience of his colleagues at times, that statistic suggests the youngster’s confidence is now sky-high. Good news for United as, 11th in the table, they attempt to qualify for the end of season play-offs.

“Rhian’s still nowhere near as good as he can be,” Heckingbottom said.