There is no doubt that Nigel Clough has inherited a squad that is full of ability and should possess enough talent to help Sheffield United climb away from the bottom four and towards the top six in the table. All the way through the squad from the goalkeeper through to the strikers we have a squad that will be the envy of most of the clubs in this division. Unfortunately we are yet to see the squad we have get anywhere close to reaching their full potential. One reason for this, in my humble opinion, is that we have a squad that is far too big and the balance of the squad is all wrong.
One of David Weir’s major downfalls was his inability to keep the same team from one week to the next. You will never win games by changing your team week in week out, particularly at this level and Weir found this out the hard way as his tinkering contributed heavily to our wretched start to the season and his demise as our manager. Nigel Clough must settle quickly on his favoured 11 in order to allow partnerships and on field relationships to build.
What I find alarming is the plethora of players we have in certain positions. We now have five players who can all play in the left back position yet we only have two recognised centre halves? We have five central midfielders (six if you include Simon Lappin who played in there against Shrewsbury) yet we appear worryingly lightweight in terms of quality strikers.
Though I agree that our squad did lack depth at the start of the campaign, David Weir’s scattergun approach to making acquisitions has only served to hinder us further. What would happen if Collins and Maguire were to pick up injuries over the next couple of weeks? Obviously no blame can be apportioned to Nigel Clough for this but he is now left with a squad full of players and only 11 positions to fill every week. It is essential that he finds a way to keep the whole squad happy, until January at least, as the last thing we need is a training ground full of unhappy players and damaged egos.
There are certain players from David Weir’s legacy who must now wonder how they are going to fit into Nigel Clough’s plans. Clough appears to like to play a fairly simple 4-4-2 with players playing in orthodox positions and in an orthodox manor and this may not suit the games of certain individuals. Jose Baxter for example does not appear to fit anywhere into this formation and I think will find himself limited to a bit part role under the new regime.
Sadly, I think this may also be the case for young Connor Coady. In the handful of games he has started Coady has looked assured on the ball and appears to have the desire to drive the midfield on and to keep the ball moving. I do though fear that he will be seen as being surplus to requirements behind the likes of Doyle (who appears to be inexplicably undroppable which is another bone of contention for me), McGinn and Lappin and I also think the flair of Cuvelier may push him above Coady in the pecking order.
Amongst the players who may now have their nose pushed out of joint by the new manager there will be players who will undoubtedly benefit from our return to a more established system and formation. The wide players at United’s disposal must have let out a collective sigh of relief when David Weir left as they will once again be able to ‘get chalk on their boots’ and provide the much needed width and delivery that we have lacked throughout the majority of this season.
In turn it will also have been a welcome sight for the likes of Lyle Taylor and Marlon King to see players now in positions to deliver crosses and cut backs from wide areas. This will undoubtedly create more chances and give the strikers a lot more ammunition to feed off. A more ridged formation should also now mean that our full backs can concentrate on defending and ensuring that we aren’t caught out in wide areas with worrying regularity like we were for the first two months of the season.
I have no doubt that the new manager and the tactics he will adopt will bring the best out of the squad but I can’t help thinking that there may be another relatively high turnover of players once the January transfer window opens for business. There are several players in the squad that will need to be shipped out as well as reinforcements being brought in in key areas of the pitch.
Centre-back should be the main area of concern for Clough come the January window but all we can do for now is hope we have enough cover in this area to carry us up the league in the interim. Not only are we short in this position in terms of numbers but I personally thinks Neil Collins’ time is up and we should be looking to replace him, not just provide cover for him.
With the re-emergence of Shaun Miller from the treatment table and a more attack minded formation I feel confident that we will now start to see our fortunes change in front of goal. Lyle Taylor is starting to look more like a player who belongs at this level with every game and Shaun Miller seems to have picked up where he left off in the short cameo appearances he has made so far. Miller will more than likely start the cup game at the weekend I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his name is on the score sheet come full time in Colchester.
The intelligence, speed of thought and poaching ability that Miller has in his arsenal will be of paramount importance to United as the season unfolds and I genuinely believe that once he is 100% match fit he could be the catalyst for a sustained push towards the top half of the table.
I am however a little concerned by Marlon King and what he brings to both the club and the team. On the face of it, King should be a fantastic player for us at this level and should have the ability to score the goals that push us towards the play offs. Unfortunately I can’t help but feel that this is a final pay day for King and that his heart isn’t really in it. I would question whether he has the desire or the inner motivation for what is currently a fight to get away from relegation. I really hope I am proved wrong but I personally think he will be gone once the January window opens and a more glamorous alternative becomes available
The next three league games are vital if we are to quickly push our way up the table and away from the relegation zone. Nigel Clough needs to be brave and pick a team that will cause the opposition problems rather than worrying about the opposition and I think he will do that. In a month’s time I am hoping we will be 10 to 12 points better off and we will be looking up the table rather than down. However, this is Sheffield United and we don’t do things the easy way.
Written by Ian Parkes, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield United blogger
Ian tweets at @ijparkes