Chris Wilder believes Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp has become an even better player since leaving Leeds two years ago.
The centre-forward returns to Elland Road tomorrow evening knowing a win would see Wilder’s side move top of the Championship table after winning seven of their last nine games.
Sharp scored five goals in only 17 league starts for United’s Yorkshire rivals before rejoining his boyhood club.
But, after dissecting the 31-year-old’s performance during last weekend’s win over Reading, Wilder said: “I look at Billy, who is tagged as ‘just’ a scorer, just a box player or someone who, even if the team loses and he scores, everything is okay.
“I thought the way he played last Saturday especially was first class. You are getting a better performance from Billy Sharp overall than maybe he has produced for quite a while now. I’m not certain but what I’m seeing is him doing the things we need him to do.
“Whether that’s his link-up play or his pressing, it’s there. Since we walked in the door, to where we are now, his game has changed. And that makes us a better team.”
Sharp hit the target 30 times in only 46 outings as United lifted the League One title last term. Despite claiming his fifth of the campaign against Jaap Stam’s side, it was Sharp’s partnership with Leon Clarke which impressed Wilder the most.
Insisting he always knew the pair could work effectively together, the United manager said: “It’s been a bit stop start because Leon was injured and then Billy got injured. But at the back end of the season, they were outstanding together. “In terms of partnerships, if you are a good player and an intelligent player, you can adapt. There’s only extreme cases where you think it won’t work. If you are good at what you do and the structure of the team is right, it suits you.
“They’ve both had to make sacrifices for that to happen but, by doing that, they’ve actually made us better as a group.”