Revealed: Why Sheffield United decided Derby County duo Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe were the pick of the bunch
When Chris Wilder first began the search for two new wing-backs after deciding George Baldock and Enda Stevens required extra competition, one thing was foremost in the Sheffield United manager’s mind.
There was no shortage of talented defenders potentially available in the transfer market. But how many of them, Wilder and his scouts found themselves wondering, were capable of grasping United’s pioneering system - which demands those tasked with protecting the flanks can attack effectively as well?
After carefully considering a number of candidates, including former Nottingham Forest full-back Matty Cash, Wilder decided Jayden Bogle and Max Lowe also possessed the necessary attributes to successfully master the role. Derby County, where both progressed through the youth system before turning professional, were not actively looking to offload either. But United’s proposal proved impossible to resist - particularly as both players were inevitably attracted by the prospect of working at Premier League level. They are expected to be officially presented to the media shortly, after Derby agreed to sell for a combined fee of around £11m. That brings United’s spending during the window to £21m, with goalkeepers Aaron Ramsdale and Wes Foderingham also heading to Bramall Lane. West Bromwich Albion centre-forward Oliver Burke is set to follow shortly.
Bogle and Lowe proved attractive propositions for a number of reasons. Aged 20 and 23 respectively, they are both younger than the players they are expected to challenge. Wilder, who by his own admission likes to devise “short, medium and long term plans”, will therefore hope United boast two read-made replacements for Baldock and Stevens when their powers eventually begin to wane. The distances the pair are forced to cover during top-flight fixtures places a great deal of stress on the two men’s bodies. Like Baldock and Stevens, Bogle and Lowe are durable; making 40 and 31 appearances respectively over the course of the past 13 months.
“Hard work is a given here,” Wilder said, during United’s recent training camp in Scotland. “Those lads (Baldock and Stevens) cover big distances.”
The biggest clue as to why Bogle and Lowe were selected from a long list of candidates, however, can be found in their heatmaps - the analytical graphics which pinpoint where they prefer to operate on the football pitch. Since turning professional with Derby, Lowe spends most of his time just in front of the halfway line or inside the first third of opposition territory. Bogle, another graduate of the Championship club’s youth programme, is slightly more expansive - venturing into enemy territory nearly as much as he works in his own. Neither man is as adventurous yet as Baldock or Stevens, who can usually be found closer to the opposition’s penalty area than their own. But Bogle and Lowe are still more attack-minded than the majority of full-backs in the second tier. Despite being regarded as one of the division’s more enterprising defenders, Luke Ayling did not tend to advance as far forward as either of his counterparts at Derby during Leeds’ promotion winning campaign.
Speaking earlier this month, Wilder outlined why he wanted to fill the vacancies he has identified within his squad before the start of the new season, which United begin with a home game against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday.
“We play in a certain way, everyone knows that,” he said. “So, if people are coming in, we want them to get on board with that as quickly as possible. That comes through hard work in the week."
Learning the intricacies of United’s take on the 3-5-2 system, which becomes a 5-3-1-1 or 5-3-2 whenever they are under pressure of facing one of the competition’s heavyweight teams, can be a tough process. Baldock and Stevens know the choreography inside out, having spent the past three seasons perfecting their positioning and timing of their runs on the training ground. Phil Jagielka, by far and away the most experienced player at Wilder’s disposal, was confident he would get to grips with it after returning to South Yorkshire from Everton last summer. Despite representing his country at both the World Cup and European Championship finals, Jagielka has found it difficult to adapt and now provides cover in the middle of United’s rearguard rather than for one of the overlapping centre-halves.
Both intelligent footballers, albeit lacking the depth of knowledge Jagielka has acquired during more than a decade at the highest level, the fact Bogle and Lowe are at the beginning of their careers could actually be a benefit as they attempt to soak-up the instructions of Wilder, his assistant Alan Knill and coach Matt Prestridge. But it will inevitably take time for them to comprehend everything; hence the desire to complete these deals before the campaign gets underway. Derby set-up in a 4-2-3-1 shape in more than half of their contests last term, and a 3-5-2 in only four per cent. United, by contrast, used the 3-5-2 in 51 per cent and a 5-3-2 in around a third.
Another quality Bogle and Lowe, who has completed loan spells with Shrewsbury Town and Aberdeen, will bring is crossing ability and positional sense off the ball. Lowe makes an average of 5.6 interceptions per game and Bogle, 4.45 - returning accuracy figures of 32 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. These compare favourably to Baldock and Stevens, who both make fewer than five interceptions, with the former successfully completing more than a third of his centres.