Sheffield United: Six things we learned from latest pre-season friendly
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Paul Heckingbottom insisted it had been a worthwhile exercise, despite expressing his disappointment at the final scoreline. But what else, other than the fact United lacked focus during the opening period, did we learn from their weekend jaunt to Glanford Park?
Oliver Arblaster could be the next big thing on the Bramall Lane block: Yes, the game is littered with players who never quite fulfilled their young potential. Plenty of them have graduated from United’s own academy programme too. Sometimes it is down to the individual themselves. On other occasions, circumstances conspire to stifle their promise. Different managers, for instance, appreciate different qualities. Timing, on and off the pitch, is everything.
Thankfully the stars appear to be aligning perfectly for Arblaster, who was one of United’s most accomplished performers on Saturday afternoon. He is comfortable in possession, constantly demands it even when under pressure, and, perhaps most importantly, appears to possess all of the attributes Heckingbottom likes to see in his midfielders.
Pre-season, you suspect, won’t mark the end of the teenager’s involvement with the first team.
Anel Ahmedhodzic can ‘Have it’: United’s marquee summer signing was introduced earlier than expected, entering the fray when Chris Basham reported discomfort in a hamstring just before the break. The Bosnia and Herzegovina international, previously of Malmo, was probably as bemused by some of his team mates’ defending as young goalkeeper Jordan Assimah. Or rather their lack of it, as Scunthorpe raced into a 3-0 lead before United finally remembered who they were during the closing stages.
A towering centre-half, Ahemhodzic clearly enjoys working the ball. His first instinct, after seizing possession, is to look for a pass rather than simply launch it into the channels. But, fortunately, Ahmedhodzic also knows when it’s best to simply ‘give it some welly’ - as he did when the hosts threatened to grab a fourth soon after the interval.
Will Osula has got bags of self-belief: The Dane started up front alongside his fellow teenager Daniel Jebbison, a member of England’s under-19 European Championship winning squad. Big things were expected of Osula when he first arrived in South Yorkshire, before a growth issue briefly slowed his development. But he has now emerged from Jebbison’s shadow and become a fine player in his own right.
Osula was withdrawn at half-time, making way for Ndiaye. But even though he didn’t write his name onto the scoresheet, the centre-forward always tried to force the issue and make things happen rather than just react to events. One run, at the beginning of the game, saw him power past three opponents before running out of space inside the box.
Max Lowe is willing to get on with it: Let’s be frank, the prospect of playing Champions League football for Olympiacos will be an enticing one for the defender, who has recently been the subject of a bid by the Greek giants. Likewise, there’s no point in pretending he won’t have been disappointed to see Nottingham Forest’s interest waning after helping them reach the Premier League whilst on loan at the City Ground last season. With United losing to Forest in the end of term knockouts, he might also have been subject to the same salary cut imposed on other members of Heckingbottom’s squad following their failure to win promotion. If Lowe has, that’s bound to sting.
But against Scunthorpe, Lowe showed no sign of sulking. In fact, he was one of United’s best performers. Yes, the standard of opposition must be taken into account. But it was noticeable he got forward a lot more than in the past, and twice went close during the second period.
Rhian Brewster has picked up where he left off: After a difficult start to his career at Bramall Lane, Brewster, United’s record signing, had started to find his touch in front of goal before succumbing to a season ending injury. After scoring three times in his final seven outings of the previous campaign, Brewster has now netted three times in two pre-season appearances, having added to his brace against Lincoln City last week with another effort here.
Brewster, who was on target with his first meaningful touch of the contest, could have had a second after Ndiaye converted during the closing stages. He will be an important player next term, and the clinical finish he produced soon after coming on will do his confidence the world of good.
Heckingbottom’s big reveal: If Sander Berge stays at United and with coaching staff keen to add another attacker before the window closes, it will be fascinating to see how the 44-year-old plans to line-up for their first match of the season proper - at Watford on August 1st. Tommy Doyle, who has yet to feature since arriving on loan from Manchester City, can press forward and so can Ndiaye. Indeed, the Senegal international is viewed by many as their heir apparent to Morgan Gibbs-White, who excelled during his stint with United last term.
Heckingbottom started this game with a front two, later confessing he wanted to ensure “everyone has had a decent run out” before the trip to Hertfordshire. But will he play with just one up top when everyone is available for selection? There are suspicions that he might, preferring to cram as many attacking options into his midfield as possible.