Stay or go? What Sheffield United boss Slavisa Jokanovic is considering as he prepares to streamline attack

With nine attackers on Sheffield United’s books, new manager Slavisa Jokanovic has some tough decisions to make before the start of the Championship season.

Tuesday, 20th July 2021, 4:50 pm

As the former Yugoslavia international prepares to reprofile the squad he inherited on July 1, James Shield considers the factors likely to decide who stays and who goes.

BILLY SHARP

Captain of the club he grew-up supporting, Sharp became the leading goalscorer in England’s top four divisions this century when United won promotion from the Championship three seasons ago.

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Now hoping to repeat that trick under Jokanovic, the Serb will be aware Sharp remains the most clinical finisher at United’s disposal. Even though he turns 36 in February.

Although his powers are bound to wane at some point, Sharp’s game is based on positioning rather than pace. That means he is probably good for another couple of years, particularly as he has shown he can also adapt to suit his changing strengths and weaknesses. As well as being adept at converting chances, Sharp now creates them too after mastering the art of holding up the ball.

Although he was distraught by United’s relegation, their return to second tier football is likely to ensure Sharp remains a regular feature in the starting eleven next term. His influence behind the scenes should not be underestimated either.

DAVID McGOLDRICK

Billy Sharp, David McGoldrick and Rhian Brewster: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

United’s leading scorer with eight goals last season, the 33-year-old has a habit of sometimes taking too many touches. But it is easy to succumb to temptation when you are so comfortable on the ball and aware of space.

McGoldrick appears certain to have a big role to play over the coming months. Particularly as he was so devastating when United were last in the Championship.

OLI McBURNIE

Signed from Swansea City for around £20m as part of United’s preparations for the PL, the Scotland international has endured a mixed time at Bramall Lane. After a solid enough first season, improving following lockdown, he should have kicked on last term but didn’t. However, as United’s results highlight, he wasn’t alone in failing to build upon the club’s ninth placed finish during their penultimate campaign under Chris Wilder.

Oli McBurnie during pre-season training

But those judging McBurnie’s performances in a United jersey should take into account the fact he has effectively sacrificed himself for the group. Being deployed as a target man doesn’t play to his strengths. When he is allowed to showcase those, McBurnie delivers. He netted 22 times in his final 42 league appearances for City.

RHIAN BREWSTER

Still without a goal since becoming United’s record signing at the beginning of last season, Brewster’s confidence has inevitably suffered since leaving Liverpool.

However, his transition wasn’t helped by a lack of regular starts following that £23.5m switch and United’s terrible form. There is also a feeling that, although Brewster needs to do more himself, United’s game plan didn’t suit him either.

Clearly a huge talent, the 2017 FIFA under-17 World Cup winner thrives on quick balls into or towards the penalty area. Like the ones fellow loanee Conor Gallagher provided him with when he hit 10 league goals in 20 Championship appearances for City two seasons ago.

LYS MOUSSET

The most frustrating player on United’s books by some distance. And, rather than taking that statement as criticism, Mousset should view it as a back-handed compliment.

At his best, the Frenchman would be one of the first name’s on Jokanovic’s team sheet. The trouble is, thanks to a series of injuries and off the pitch issues, United have seldom seen him at the peak of his powers.

If Jokanovic can get inside his head, Mousset can be every bit as important for the Serb as Alexsandar Mitrovic was when Fulham went up in 2018. But the 25-year-old must reciprocate by being more professional away from the game. Talent is worth nothing unless it is properly looked after. This is make-or-break time.

OLIVER BURKE

Like Mousset, Burke is an enigma. Perhaps an even more puzzling one because the Scot appears to be a focused professional properly dedicated to his craft.

United have seen flashes of just how good Burke can be. But also, despite his pace, technique and power, how he can be anonymous during matches too.

Wilder played him as a central striker, and it was easy to understand why. But if Burke remains in South Yorkshire, a return to a wider role might suit because converting chances is clearly not a strength.

DANIEL JEBBISON

The teenager’s emergence was a rare success story at United last season. Unfortunately the tale of how he burst out of nowhere to become the young player to score on their full PL in the competition’s history was only written after their relegation had been confirmed.

Jebbison, now aged 18, is energetic, brave and clearly - as his history-making strike at Everton demonstrated - a finisher.

But with only four senior appearances under his belt, he is also raw. Certain to become an even more formidable physical specimen as he matures, Jebbison could easily have a role to play at United next season. Particularly as Jokanovic has said he considers ability rather than age when judging a player.

But if he isn’t going to feature regularly, then it might be an idea to send him out on loan to a club where he will.

TYLER SMITH

Has frequently caught the eye at the beginning of a pre-season but then never quite managed - or been given the chance - to build on that progress. Smith, who scored during United’s 3-0 win over Europa Point earlier this month, is now 22 and deserves regular football. If that isn’t going to come at Bramall Lane, United should let him move on.

ANTWOINE HACKFORD

Made his senior debut at Crystal Palace in January and signed professional terms earlier this summer, Hackford looks like he could be a prospect. Still only 17, United should loan him out next term in order to improve his experience.