Sheffield United: This is the team to beat Nottingham Forest

For the time being at least, Sheffield United have the ability to rotate their squad.

Friday, 4th March 2022, 11:05 am

Not right across the pitch. Paul Heckingbottom is running out of defenders ahead of tonight’s game against Nottingham Forest. But in midfield and attack he still has room for manoeuvre

Pitting seventh versus ninth in the Championship table, with ninth only three points outside of the play-off positions, United’s meeting with Steve Cooper’s side is of critical importance to both clubs’ seasons.

With that in mind, The Star’s James Shield names the starting eleven he would pick for this clash between two of the division’s biggest names.

The Team: Foderingham, Norrington-Davies, Baldock, Gordon, Egan, Robinson, Norwood, Berge, Gibbs-White, Ndiaye, Sharp.

The Substitutes: A Davies, B Davies, McBurnie, Jebbison, Fleck, Hourihane, Starbuck.

The Thinking: Teenage defender Kyron Gordon justified his selection at Millwall. Beforehand, I would have picked Ben Davies because of his greater experience - even though he would have been featuring on the wrong side of the back three. But Gordon, making his full league debut, proved Heckingbottom was right not to try and squeeze a round peg into a square hole.

Nottngham Forest manager Steve Cooper brings his team to Sheffield United: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Personally, I still think Davies is one of the best defenders at the club. But because I’m making changes elsewhere, I’ve decided to leave him on the bench here. Purely because teams who make too many changes can struggle to discover their rhythm at the beginning of games. And with Forest in form and full of confidence, United need to impose their authority on the match early on.

George Baldock is carrying a knock. But if he is fit, he features.

I’ve been one of Sander Berge’s biggest critics at times. And I still think he needs to do more - consistently - to impose himself on opponents. However, he’s only disappointed me at times because you can see he’s a quality player who really should be dominating fixtures in the Championship. Forest aren’t the most physical side United will face this term - apart from one area of the pitch, but more of that later - so Berge comes back in for me after being named on the bench at The Den. The same goes for Morgan Gibbs-White. United simply don’t look as dangerous without him.

Morgan Gibbs-White should start for Sheffield United against Nottingham Forest: Darren Staples / Sportimage

In contrast to Berge, I’ve defended Oli McBurnie in the face of some fierce criticism of late. Why? Because I still don’t think United utilise him properly. McBurnie, in my opinion, isn’t a targetman. He’s much more effective when he’s allowed to run towards the box and drag his markers out of position. For some reason, though, he seems to have become pigeonholed as an attacking battering ram.

Having said all that, however, McBurnie still has to bend to fit United’s strategy. And he also needs to score more goals, even if his present role doesn’t give him the best chance of doing that.

I would bring McBurnie in to face Middlesbrough next week. But here, with Steve Cook expected to feature at the back for Forest, I’m going to go with Iliman Ndiaye. Cook relishes a physical battle. Ndiaye won’t pose a threat to him in this sense. But he will trouble Cook if he can pick up the ball midway in the visitors’ half and run at him.

Kyron Gordon deserves to retain his place in Sheffield United's starting eleven: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom has some big decisions to make ahead of tonight's match at Bramall Lane: Paul Terry / Sportimage