Where Sheffield United simply must strengthen ahead of their Premier League return

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Sheffield United are about to enter one of the most important transfer windows in their history as Paul Heckingbottom attempts to lay the foundations for a long stay in the Premier League.

However, for a variety of different reasons and despite acknowledging the club is at a critical juncture, the United manager will only have a limited amount of money to spend on new players.

The Star’s James Shield assesses the areas of the pitch Heckingbottom should target in order to best improve a squad which finished second in the Championship last season - and those he can leave alone.

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Sheffield United are heading back to the Premier League: Paul Thomas /SportimageSheffield United are heading back to the Premier League: Paul Thomas /Sportimage
Sheffield United are heading back to the Premier League: Paul Thomas /Sportimage

Goalkeeper: Wes Foderingham has proved himself to be a more than capable first choice since arriving at Bramall Lane at the beginning of their last top-flight campaign. The former Rangers man, initially recruited as Aaron Ramsdale’s deputy, then found himself playing second fiddle to Robin Olsen. But since forcing his way into the starting eleven, Foderingham has kept 36 clean sheets. Having acquired Premiership experience in Scotland with Rangers, he has the temperament to handle the big occasion. Given the constraints upon Heckingbottom’s budget, there is no need for United to draft in another senior goalkeeper at this stage; particularly given the understanding he has developed with defenders such as John Egan and George Baldock.

Adam Davies, who travelled to the World Cup with Wales, is a capable deputy. Like Foderingham, he deserves his chance at the highest level.

However, if there is anything left in the pot once United have filled the most pressing vacancies within their squad, then they could be tempted to look at drafting in a young loanee which would allow Jordan Amissah to continue his development by playing regular football elsewhere before returning to South Yorkshire next summer.

But, assessing this department, United would be advised to focus their attention in the transfer market elsewhere.

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Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is looking to the future: Paul Thomas /SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is looking to the future: Paul Thomas /Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom is looking to the future: Paul Thomas /Sportimage

Defence: After borrowing Ciaran Clark from Newcastle to provide cover and competition for Jack Robinson, a centre-half definitely features on United’s wanted-list. Vastly experienced, the Republic of Ireland international would actually be a sensible capture on a free when his contract at St James’ park expires. But United will have concerns about his injury record since leaving the North-East.

If he had greater financial resources, Heckingbottom would almost certainly be looking to bring in two people in this position. But he must use what little he has carefully, and so might prefer to target other areas of the pitch.

Anel Ahmedhodzic is equipped for the big stage and, barring injury, is a strong bet to excel. But if John Egan, who slots in between the Bosnian and Robinson, is unavailable for selection then United look woefully short of options in this position. That’a why a player of Clark’s mould - who can also operate in the middle of a three - appears absolutely crucial.

Sheffield United : Paul Thomas /SportimageSheffield United : Paul Thomas /Sportimage
Sheffield United : Paul Thomas /Sportimage

Midfield: This is arguably the area where Heckingbottom and his recruitment experts have the most work to do ahead of next season. Not because United are short of some quality options in their engine room. But rather, having been forced to fill key positions with temporary signings in the past, two of their most influential performers last term - Tommy Doyle and James McAtee - are heading back to Manchester City. Despite their tender years, aged 21 and 20 respectively, the duo will leave big boots to fill.

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Ideally, Heckingbottom would like both to return. However, for this to happen, PL rules dictate that United must buy at least one. City have no intention of allowing McAtee to depart permanently but could be persuaded to do a deal for Doyle. This will prove difficult, given his salary at the Etihad Stadium which was partly subsidised by the reigning champions. But United will need athletes, capable of creating but also destroying and covering ground quickly, to survive. So if Heckingbottom can only choose one, it really should be Doyle. Neither Oliver Norwood or Sander Berge, fine players in their own right, possess the youngster’s energy.

If Berge is deployed in a more advanced role, undoubtedly his best position, Heckingbottom should use a large chunk of his transfer kitty to draft in another player in a similar mould to Doyle as well. Because United won’t dominate possession like they did last term, an injection of physicality in this area is required.

Attack: Goals, or the ability to score them to be exact, will ultimately be what decides whether United retain their PL status or make an immediate return to the Championship. Iliman Ndiaye, who simply must stay if Heckingbottom’s employers are serious about giving them a fighting chance of doing that, should continue improving. Oli McBurnie, who also netted 15 last term, provides a focal point and there will be a big responsibility for Daniel Jebbison to continue improving too. He has all the attributes required to succeed at this level. But, it must be remembered, has yet to turn 20.

If Rhian Brewster is fit then, given his pace, United’s record signing could come into his own. But Heckingbottom will be reluctant to ask too much of the youngster too soon as he makes his way back from a series of hamstring problems.

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That means at least one centre-forward is an absolute must in the market. One because it surely makes more sense to invest heavily, and get real quality, than spread yourself too thinly.

Ndiaye will almost certainly depart at some point and so any money United spend here now, while they can offer someone a chance to compete at the highest level, would be well spent and help to take care of their future too.