Season Review / School Report 19/20 Part 5 - Midfield

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Deadbat

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2019/20 SUFC SEASON REVIEW / SCHOOL REPORT



Rest of week will be posted as below

Saturday – Part 6 Attack

Sunday – Part 7 Final awards / Conclusions


Midfielders


Oliver Norwood
Had a sensational first season at the club and was pivotal in promotion. All the talk was he would finally get his chance at the top level after being moved on/not used for the previous club he went up with. There were some doubts due to this, even amongst United fans. His lack of mobility, pace and ability even to dictate games at a higher level, were all things mooted as reasons why he may not be able to be a regular for a team at this level. He started the season as skipper showing what Wilder thought and was really solid in the opening games. We saw his range of passing in the opening games and when we had the good runs, he was normally a big part of this. We stayed around the top 8 most of the season after the opening month and he was an ever present in a successful team.



He has so many positives. His control, skill and passing are consistently good. He never hides at all and always comes off square or into positions looking for a pass. He always wants to get the ball and make us tick. Normally when he plays well, we do. We saw his range of passes again although as the season went on, he did not quite go as long as he had done to start the season and we saw a bit more safety. At times he gives it away but his pass retention is very high.



There are weaknesses to his game and when his passing is off and teams press him, he can struggle. He cannot really run with the ball much (saw this more from Coutts actually – these two wrongly do get compared) and most of his work comes from when he gets it and moves it rather than run with it and then release- but nothing wrong with making the ball do the work.



He does lack pace and at times mobile runners do get away from him (saw this post lockdown) but did not see this as much as I thought and our shape/structure covers for other players weaknesses too. He has a penchant for diving in a bit much as the season went on and picked up some cheap bookings I thought and made some silly tackles, going to ground too much. It seemed at times he looked a bit leggy after the restart – as did quite a few of the others too.



Overall, I felt he had a good season though and whilst he was not quite player of the season territory, he was still one of our better 5/6 players – and along with Fleck our best midfielder.



He started every game until the final game although was taken off at times in games and sacrificed when we needed more defensive protection or normally wanted an extra attacking threat. He seemed to accept that in the same way Bash did. He will now see what it takes to succeed at this level and realise with legs/runners around him he can be successful.



Seems a really good pro. Looks after himself, never complains, no theatricals we see of other players. Been a big part of the last few years and see no reason why he won’t be moving forward. I, personally, see him starting again next season and do not get all this we need to play Berge in ‘his’ position and that he will usurp Norwood next season. Maybe in a few seasons if that is where he is slated to play but don’t see it now. Some of the criticism of Norwood since lockdown was ridiculous and they forget how important he has been and probably will be. Not sure Berge has done anything so far to suggest he can yet play the position he plays so well. Norwood has also just signed a new contract – he is 29 so in his peak really and never been the quickest so not like he will lose lots of pace.



Grade B+ (Last season A-)



John Fleck
Was excellent of course as we moved through the leagues but another who we were not sure whether he could move up and succeed at the very top. He clearly had tons of ability, could run with the ball, pass, tackle and was all energy but it would be wrong to say a few of us did not think would the top-level midfielders might be stronger, faster and just better? He always starts seasons quite slowly and that was the case again this year as he got an injury and ended up out of the team for a few games end of August. He came back and slowly started to get better and better. He was really good v Liverpool and maybe the outstanding player on the field and carried this on in games against as we moved up the league and the country began to take notice of us. He was excellent also in the away games and was involved in much of the good stuff we did. Versus Burnley he scored a lovely goal and then got another v Man Utd and due to the new formation with a flat three, he often became the most advanced. He scored two cracking goals v Villa in a man of the match showing and then after a few seasons of barely scoring (one criticism of his game along with the slow starts) he had four and made it five with a lovely strike v Arsenal away. His performances were very consistent and some of the games he was absolutely bossing things against established Premier League performers. Recall the game away at City when we played the then champions and he was sensational first half against some unbelievable players. He little dribbling runs and drives forward had been a feature in League One and the Championship but these were working at the top level and he was looking a brilliant player even against much more difficult competition. He even got a Scotland cap and became involved as even they could not ignore him anymore as they saw him outplay others (some from his country like McGinn). He was our best player up to lockdown and showed he definitely belonged at this level and then some.



After the break he picked up an injury and missed the first game and then came back and struggled in two big defeats and then Wilder realised he was not fully fit or he picked up another knock. Osborn came in and did well and gave us some energy as Fleck had looked way off it and as I have said probably miles off full fitness. He got back in from the bench and did well against Everton and then in the final game was not really at it and did not have the best end to the season. He was my player of the season along with Bash but then ended it in poor form.



Definitely the injury and his form (probably due to the injury) held him back and for us to be essentially without our best player for the final 10 games was hard – as a fit and firing Fleck and I believe we maybe got more results than we did – although Osborn did well in that trio of home games to give him credit.



Hope he can start next season well (something he does not normally do – takes him a bit to get going) and be back fully fit. He has proved he can do very well at this level and been one of our better players. Love to watch him when he is in full flight, running with the ball or chipping away at opponents to win it back or threading those little give and go passes with Enda/Jack. Like Norwood he is 29, so entering his prime. Sure, he can go on and be a key player for years to come. He has to go and build on a great (until the break) season and maintain it now. The only worry is that if he does then teams may look at him as he certainly has shown what a fantastic footballer he is. It seems a long way from those comments Roy shared from Coventry fans saying he would be no great loss at all.



Grade A- (Last season B)



John Lundstram Last year I wrote the following in my end of season review, ‘Still has another year on his deal but he has shown he is not good enough consistently for the top end of the Championship to play regularly so not sure how he would cope with an even bigger jump.’ Shows how wrong we can be. Wilder kept him around but when Duffy moved on, you expected him to go with Luke Freeman but then as the pre-season games came around, Lunny was involved quite a bit. The season started and he was a surprise pick opening day (and a widely criticised selection too) but he was out best player at Bournemouth and some great assists/range of passes. He then scored the winner v Palace in another excellent showing and started every league game up to Dec 29 at Man City when he was injured. Those first 4-5 months, he was excellent. It was literally like a different player to the one we saw before. He was strong, mobile and good with the ball in lots of situations – we had seen some of his long passing but he looked like someone who was a bit of an all-rounder. He was excellent in lots of games, recall the assist at Everton and played well in many of our successful performances. His link play with Bash and Baldock down the right and his ability to find key passes or get in the box for chances. More than anything his level of fitness and strength were things we had not seen before. He was making lung bursting runs up and down and holding off players for power. He showed some pace too as I said earlier. The game v Burnley was his stand out as he scored two great goals getting on the end of two fabulous team moves and was superb that day. He carried this on with more good games home and away – recall him having some good games in the capital and a superb second half v Villa. He seemed to have gone from a player not good enough for the Championship to a player now a regular and one of our key men in a top half and even higher, Premier League player. It really was an incredible transformation so credit to him for the work he had done in the off season and determination to get a place and keep him. Also to Wilder whose faith and the player none of us really saw before this season, started to emerge.



Amongst this improved form, he became a bit of a hero for many playing fantasy football who signed him probably as a fill in and the fact he was listed as a defender but not only played well (clean sheet suppose counted for him) but also scored goals and gained the nickname, Lord Lundstram! He was actually seen as one of our best players and key men in those early months and rightly so as he played so well.



Can recall only a few ordinary games before he dropped off at Brighton and then at home to Watford and then things changed after this.



Besic got in the team a bit and then Berge came in and suddenly he was not a guaranteed starter – he only made 7 starts in the games left (19) after the game on Boxing Day. He did score against Bournemouth when he came on as sub and assisted in Sharp’s goal but his form was quite patchy to poor up to lockdown – Berge hardly impressed so he would not have had to do much to keep his place.



When we came back, he started with Fleck out but not sure he did enough in the game he did play and was back out of the team as Berge came in and improved. I watched him carefully when he came on as sub in games and he looked a bit disinterested. He moved it sideways/backwards or gave it away and never got on the ball and drove/linked up like in that opening few months. His body language did not look great and looked like his fitness was not what it had been – more like the player we saw for most of his United career. His form had dropped off in terms of not doing the things that had seen him stand out but he also his attitude seemed to not be as it was. Did score a goal in the final game but this was a fleeting moment in a poor end to his season after he started so well. Maybe he sulked over the Berge signing/selection but all throughout the season after his improvements, there was discussion over his contract and Wilder was asked about it too. He had another year with United having an option (which they took later on in the season) but Wilder likes players tied down longer and it seems he was not interested in what the Blades were offering. This seems to be still rumbling on and is a shame.



I would not be shocked if we get a bid if Wilder moves him on. I do not see lots of Premier League clubs coming for him at all. His body of work is 4-5 months in 3 years of work and not sure teams will take a punt on the money/wages he is supposedly looking for especially with the market being damaged in terms of what teams can spend. I thought maybe a Burnley type team might look at him but he would have to work much harder than he has most of his United career. Outside of that I do not see it and he would end up back in the Championship and probably be on wages no better than he is now. He has to be careful as Duffy found out. What I would like him to do is sign a deal and knuckle down and get back to the form he showed. Be surprised if this happens and would not be shocked if we do not see him at the Lane much longer. Shame as he showed he can be a real asset in that spell and if he could get back to that then even with Berge here, we would rotate players and have injuries etc so still could play a fair bit.



Grade B (Last season C-)
 

Deadbat

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Luke Freeman
We had been linked with him even going back to his Stevenage days and then he moved about to a few clubs in the Championship but lost his way a bit at Bristol City. He then found a home at QPR and was superb last season and a real talisman. A lovely footballer who could pass, run with it, score goals and do a bit of everything. Looked really talented whenever we saw him and one of the players a lot of fans always wanted us to sign. When we were linked with him in the summer with QPR having a few financial issues and us going up, you sensed the logic. We needed competition for Duffy in this area and he seemed the right age at 27 who could come in and give us another number 10/attacking outlet. He was our first ‘big money’ signing of a number last summer but seemed reasonable at what we paid. Duffy of course moved on and suddenly he seemed the heir apparent and would start but then Wilder went to a flatter midfield and Lundstram got in and did well. Freeman did get a chance against Palace and did quite well and assisted on the goal but was not as impressive the following games he started v Leicester and Chelsea (came off). He was in and out of the team around this time but after that game at Chelsea he actually only started one more league game – away at Brighton where he was ok but was again taken off on the hour mark. He played in the cup games and showed flashes but not enough for me. When he did come on as sub not sure he did anything to really make you sit up and notice. Actually, the sub appearances got less and less as the season went on and he often was stuck on the bench. He did come on a few times after lockdown but with Lundstram, Berge and Osborn – (Fleck and Norwood always started if fit) then he moved further down the pecking order. He got an injury and then we did not see him again.



It did not help we kind of played with three more orthodox midfielders and went away from the attacking midfield style we saw the previous seasons. I did wonder why he was not tried off a McBurnie or McGoldrick or Mousset as a second withdrawn striker but maybe he lacks the pace/mobility. However, I probably disagree with a lot of fans who say he did nothing wrong and should have had more chances. Some of it was circumstance of course with the midfield doing well but even in cameos off the bench or in the Cup (did play well at Reading second half) not sure he did enough to suggest he should be starting. Clearly a good footballer but for someone who lacks pace/strength he needs to have other things at this level and when he gives the ball away too much which he did when he played then it’s going to be hard for him to play – as he did not really set much up (outside of the Lundstram goal v Palace and the Sharp one at Reading) and never scored or looked like scoring really. I think he is a player that this level might be a bit too much for him as he lacks the other parts of his game and not sure he is quite dynamic enough to run away from better/quicker athletes at this level. He is neat and tidy but again not sure he will ever be close to a regular and he is what he is really – not going to change his game/style as we are not.



I may get panned for some of above but I do see him as a bit like Callum Robinson in that they are solid to good at Championship level playing for mid table sides there but the step up maybe is a bit much. Some made it (Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Egan, Baldock etc) but others maybe just quite got that extra quality/drive. I am sure some will say he never had the chances but you have to take them when they come and when they did, he did not do enough to say ‘pick me!’ That is the reality at this level as we can’t wait for them to suddenly get better.



Be interesting to see what we do with him moving forward as not sure he will be more than a sub/bit part player and don’t see him getting in ahead of the current three +Lundstram (and Osborn). If talk of Swift comes to fruition then he will be even further down the pecking order. Depends if he is happy to be a squad player with us or wants to play more. I can see him maybe moving on, perhaps on loan back down to the Championship if we do add players to what we already have in this area. I thought the signing was fine when we made it but it is a big jump up from the Championship to the Premier League and some won’t quite have enough to make that leap. He did ok but made only 3 starts the whole season and that says it all really.



Grade C (Last season NA)





Sander Berge A player that was linked with United a few times but seemed to be way out of our reach as he was playing in the Champions League. However, the Blades has clearly kept an eye on him and had been watching him for a few years according to Wilder. Berge had started his career playing youth football for Asker but then moved onto top flight side Valarenga. He only played just over a season in the top Norwegian division when other teams started to take notice of this tall and talented midfielder. Genk signed him although it is hard to find out how much they paid for him and at 19 he was already leaving his homeland to play in Belgium. He arrived midway through the 16-17 season and only played a bit that campaign before becoming more involved the future season playing 13 times. In 18/19 he really made the break through and Genk won the Belgian top flight with Berge playing 28 matches. He also was involved as Genk made the quarter finals of the Europa League before losing to Celta Vigo. This season he managed to grab four goals in the Jupiler Pro League so in 23 appearances and played 6 goals in the Champions League and started to really impress and did well in games against Liverpool and Napoli. He had also played for his native Norway throughout all the different age groups at youth level and made his senior debut in a World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in March 2017, aged 19.

Berge scored his first international goal in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Malta in September. Norway have reached the play-off stage for next summer’s finals.



Berge was linked with Chelsea, Liverpool, Napoli and West Ham to name a few and seemed like teams who had had gone up against him in Europe had definitely seen something with his physique, composure with the ball and ability to beat the press allied to the fact he was only 21. Man Utd then became linked and as January came around, whilst the Blades were still mentioned unlikely but then the last week of January rumours mounted that we had a bid accepted but it still seemed like a move that seemed far fetched considered the interest in him. However, we saw him pictured in Sheffield in the hotel with Wilder and the Norwegian press indicated it was happening. We then had the announcement he had signed. Of course, most Blades had never seen him play, maybe just clips on youtube or odd bits from the Champions League but it still seemed massively exciting and a huge coup. I am not sure I have been as excited about a transfer before (maybe Deane coming back?) and it seemed like United had really arrived with the transfer fee (over 20 million) another club record. We had spent money on Mousset and McBurnie but this one seemed a different level in terms of going out to the continent and bringing in a real star in the making.



His interviews showed he seemed a really intelligent and humble lad and it was then we realised what a giant he was (6’5’’). He was put straight in the side at Palace amidst much fanfare amongst Blades fans with Norwegian flags in the away end and even a song, set to ‘She’s Electric!’ by Oasis. He was decent if not spectacular that first day as we won. The ovation and his smile at the end as the Blades sang the chant was a great moment. After this we beat Bournemouth but he was at fault for the first goal we conceded but at least contributed to the leveller but struggled a bit and his replacement Lundstram scored the winner. I felt he struggled at home to Brighton and then in the cup at Reading played in the Norwood role for a period; as many felt his wide right of midfield was not his position and he was being ‘shoe horned’ in somewhat. Wilder clearly was going to play him as he had tracked him for so long but he did struggle to begin with and was dropped for the Norwich game.



The lockdown was probably mixed for him as he was away from him and had only just signed but at least would give him chance to get really fit and catch up with the others but when we came back, he struggled in the first few games, as did the whole team. A lot were very critical wondering what he offered as he was quite slow, did not do much rather than the basic pass and would not take initiative He also looked weak and was poor in the air for a big guy. He played much better v Arsenal and then against Spurs was excellent and carried on with some decent performances against Wolves and also Chelsea. He struggled in the next two and seemed to look tired and could not push on as United’s season petered out a bit. Showed flashes in the last game but a big few months ahead to get himself up the speed of this level.



Seems to be a big discussion so far whether many in one of three camps – so far he has not been good /consistent enough and needs to do much more, to he has done ok and look a good player (not every game) to the probably more realistic he has struggled at times but shown glimpses and with him being young and learning our system/a new league which is more quicker. I have to say I cannot go back on what I have said in match reports and that the verdict on what I have seen I have to say I have been quite disappointed. He has shown flashes but not enough for me. I expected a ball player who would move through the field or dictate play. So far, I have seen a big lad who looks very meek. Maybe the fee does influence me and I get we have paid for potential.



He did have 2 or 3 good games and one excellent one v Spurs but that is out of 11 games but has been subpar to poor in most games and simply not influenced games enough. I agree he has shown he is decent on the ball and started to show more strength and influence but needs to do much more. Maybe he will go on and be a great signing and show why we chased him for so long and I do trust Wilder but I cannot make a rating on what might happen or what he showed for another club, I can only really discuss his body of work for United so far which has been sub part over all the game (not just looking at the 2/3 he did well in).



A lot are still saying he is in the wrong position but had games/time in there and not sure he looked much different. He did not show enough that he is better than Norwood. Some have spoke about us playing this double pivot with both playing but I do not see what as our play is based on overloads and getting men into those channels – if we have two holding midfielders that hugely negates the chances to do that. He for now, will have to continue on that right-hand side role. I do expect us to start with him, Norwood and Fleck next season with all the doubt over Lundstram etc but it is a big 6 or 7 weeks for him to keep moving his fitness up. At times players just ran past him and he needs to be able to keep up at this level. He has undoubtedly got quick feet and does move it on well with few touches but at times I hope he can progress with the ball too and not just move it on sideways/backwards. Clearly his size means he can carry it on and go through the thirds and we have seen glimpses of this in games. I hope it is just a case of learning the game and having the confidence to stamp his authority more. This allied with improving his fitness and getting used to this level (so much quicker than Belgium) means I hope he can go on and consistently show us the player we signed. So far, he has not quite done that but like a few other Wilder signings does need time. As I say my verdict is what I have seen so far but I hope this time next year I write a summary that improvements many are confident he will go on and make. I hope he does as he seems a really nice lad and wants to part of the journey here. He could maybe have signed elsewhere (not have played as much) for more money but obviously Wilder/Knill really believe in him and he saw that. A big season for him next year though and needs to hit the ground running.



Grade C (Last season NA)









Mo Besic
Came in just before the start of the season after being on loan at Boro for a few seasons with some success before he struggled a bit more under Tony Pulis. Besic was seen as good cover in midfield and was signed for the season on loan. I was worried he was not the best use of our 2nd Premier League loan and it kind of proved as he barely played at all to begin with. We saw his tough tackling style in some of the cup games but was not really starting in the league. He did start to come on as sub more and then gradually became more involved.



I recall him also starting and doing ok at Man City and then the same at the Lane v City. Indeed, his only two starts came v the Champions of the previous season. He did have some good cameos as sub when we had some good results around Xmas.



He scored a great goal away at Millwall and seemed in and around the first team at this point but then suddenly he fell out of favour and was not even on the bench. Berge came in and he was never seen again. I wondered if he had a fall out with Wilder as he had been doing ok and looked a useful lad to play here and there in the run in but then he was not involved. He only had 9 games for United all in all.



After the break, he ended up going back to Everton – this seemed odd as they were not intending to play him and he has another year left on his contract there so it is not as if he does not want to get injured or risk a new deal somewhere? Maybe Wilder and him just decided he would not feature and he did not fancy hanging around. I think we would have played him and used his energy in those last few games myself when we looked sluggish on the return and he at least would have tackled and harried – unlike some of the other midfielders.



I am guessing he will go back on loan to the Championship now as that is probably about his level. Everton seem to have had him ages and he looks nowhere near the first team there so maybe if a small bid comes in, they may let him go but not sure he is quite good enough for the top level.



Grade C+ (Last season NA)
 

Deadbat

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Ben Osborn
Signed around the same time as Henderson returned with the latter obviously getting the attention and was seen as a squad type player to give us options down the left of defence and midfield. Being a Premier League club means even a player like this who was not a regular starter every week for Forest, still cost close to 3 million pounds (1.5 million up front). He had a year left of his contract at Forest and perhaps felt it was time to move on and a chance to play at a higher level but still stay fairly local to where he was from.



He actually began at Derby as a youth playing for his boyhood club but was released and signed for Forest, moving through the academy and reserves to go on and play for the first team over 200 times in 6 seasons. Forest had so many managers and he was sometimes in favour and a regular for a few seasons and then in and out but the last 3 seasons he played most of the game either at left midfield or occasionally at left back/wing back but was for the most part used in midfield.



I recall seeing him score two fantastic goals v Bristol City and also Derby and whenever he played United, I always thought he was decent with good energy and a nice left foot. They beat us both times at the City Ground actually in the Championship.



He seemed a sensible signing though and his ability to play a few positions in our unique system marked him down as someone who Wilder would clearly like to have around even if he did not start that much. He scored actually at Barnsley in pre season but as expected was on the bench. He played in the Cup v Blackburn and then came on at Chelsea as we got a draw. I recall him coming off the bench at Everton at the end but he was mostly an unused sub but did play a fair bit as sub against Brighton and did well in a strong team performance. He played against Fylde, Millwall and Reading but remained only a bit part player in the league but came on in wins v Palace and Norwich. Indeed, v Norwich he was excellent in the second half. After the restart we had injuries but remained on the bench till Fleck was struggling and he got his first start against Spurs and was excellent. He was all energy winning tackles, making interceptions and did well when he had the ball. He gave us some enthusiasm and industry we lacked in the games since the restart. He had a run of really good games v Burnley, Wolves and then Chelsea where was involved in goals too (led to corner v Wolves and one two with Stevens v Chelsea) and was a revelation.



Fleck came back but he kept his place but maybe it was a bit too much with so many games and he had two poor performances at Leicester and v Everton as the team struggled again and did not play the final game.



Been a good signing for what we played and you need people like him about. Does not seem the sort to moan and a great lad to have who can come off the bench and start the odd game. When I saw him left wing back, I was not convinced at first but did well in a few sub appearances and then did well starting in midfield for a period. think Seems a really nice lad and quite intelligent and his interests in music/literature/politics seem quite different to most other players! Will be in and around the squad next year but not sure he will start many games unless we get lots of injuries. Seen some saying he has been better than Fleck but that is ridiculous – he had three good games but he is a squad player and not sure someone that would play every week and show the level of quality the other midfielders have.



Grade B (Last season NA)



Ravel Morrison
Another one of those salvage jobs that Wilder likes to do but this was seen as the ultimate reach. A player that Alex Ferguson, Sam Allardyce and Harry Redknapp had even struggled to get in line; Morrison went from being the outstanding player in the Man Utd academy side that won the FA Youth Cup (I saw him excel even more than Paul Pogba at the Lane) to in essence a journeyman who had to go abroad to Sweden to try and see if he could kick start his career after spells at Birmingham, QPR, West Ham, Cardiff and then bizarrely Lazio. He had shown flashes at all these clubs but never got the best of his talent and his career seemed to be drifting away. Many managed accused him of lack of effort and discipline.



He had this brief spell in Scandinavia and then Wilder gave him a trial. He impressed but was another surprise move when we gave him a contract. He did quite well in pre-season and then was on the bench to start the season – he even came on for Leicester as we chased the game at Bramall Lane. He was restricted to cup games where he showed flashes with some nice assists and passes but to me completely lacked discipline to play midfield. He was put in more of a deep role probing and dictating than someone getting in the last third like I remembered from his early days when he scored a fair few goals and was more of an attacking threat. He never really stood out even against lower league opponents and one decent assist for a goal apart/few tricks here and there; I felt he just did not do the basics (positional play/simple passes/retention) enough and defensively looked a liability. He did not look a Wilder type player at all (not saying he always has a type as he has signed flair players before) and looked a long way off being close to being a regular in the top flight. He rarely made the bench after the opening months and was only used in those cup games. Eventually, he was allowed to move to Middlesbrough on loan. His spell here was stop -start too and he could not hold down a regular starting spot in a poor Boro team. I did not think Neil Warnock coming in would lead to him playing any more as did not seem his type of player and so it proved.



The club had a year option but Wilder said he was not coming back and seemed something maybe had gone off at the end – there were a few cryptic posts on Instagram from Morrison and Wilder seemed to take exception to something after previously saying he had been fine round the group. What was odd is Warnock said he had sent him back before the end of the season as he did not think he would be involving him? However, Wilder said he did not want him back anyway and it seemed nobody wanted him but suffice to say his career at the Lane is done and was left without a club as the season ended.



Some will say even Wilder could not turn him around but not sure it is his attitude that has been the issue. He has not caused any problems and Wilder says he has actually fitted in ok and been part of the squad etc. I simply just do not think he is good enough as this level. He may have shown that ability when younger but now it’s more than just a few passes/tricks. You have to do lots of things to be a top-level midfield player – fitness, stamina, strength, tactical awareness, ability to do the stuff off the ball and for all the ability he may have; not sure he has those or ever will. That is not down to Wilder but down to him. He has not even shown he can be a Championship regular. I expect him to maybe move to somewhere like Salford (I know Gary Neville was interested last summer before we signed him) but I worry that he may be out of the game in a few years unless the can improve on some of those attributes I discussed. To me though it was not a failed signing. It was not even a gamble really. Just a signing that did not come off but did not lead to any major issues as the team were doing well and he did not affect harmony.



Grade E (Last season NA)







The rest





Mark Duffy
He was not as involved pre-season and then it seemed he had asked for a new contract and Wilder had not been happy with this or the timing. His agent was heavily involved in this and with various messages on social media from his wife, Dad etc, it seemed that Duffy’s time was over at the Lane. A really disappointing way for it to end. Many felt he may not play every week at the higher level with his lack of pace and athleticism but most fans thought he would have a part and be around the squad and still be able to contribute due to his ability to unlock defences etc. Duffy seemed to suggest he was worth more but the lack of serious interest in him for what he was asking for at his age, suggested otherwise. He moved to Stoke on loan but this was a disaster as he could not even break into a struggling Championship team. He ended up having this season long loan terminated and eventually ended up as ADO Den Haag in Holland. His contract was up at the end of the 19-20 season so his United career was effectively ended.



A vital cog in the journey but as Wilder has proved time and time again; he is not afraid of making big decisions and clear Duffy had shot his bolt despite his success before this season. He will always be remembered fondly by United fans for his play and ‘that’ goal but he will surely look back on regret at his/agent’s decision. He is not in exactly the same position as he would have been anyway but will command a far lower wage and club than he would have done if he had played some games for United at the top level and realised a boyhood dream. He had his one chance to do that but gambled and it backfired spectacularly. He will never have this chance again and now he will not even get offers at the Championship and expect him to end up at somewhere like Fleetwood or Tranmere although recently seen reports linking him with Preston and today Hull. Really sad but little sympathy for him at the current stage but sure we will look back at his spell in years to come (even now) as a great contribution in a wonderful time for the club.









Nathan Thomas another who seems to have been here years but actually only signed 3 seasons ago. Came from Hartlepool and seen as a bit of a punt but Middlesbrough were interested and it seemed like he had a bit about him in pre-season games of 17-18 with pace and a bit of zip. Sadly, United never played with wingers anyway and he barely played although scored in the League Cup v Walsall and in the FA Cup at Ipswich, a stunning long-range goal. He went on loan to Shrewsbury and then Notts County and in a struggling team found it hard. He eventually went to Carlisle and did well so it was a bit of a surprise when he signed for Gillingham but left after only playing one pre-season game and saying he could not settle down in the South and for family reasons wanted to be back up North. He subsequently signed for Carlisle again and did really well and always seemed to be involved in goals when you saw highlights on Quest. His contract is up and he seems well liked there so you would not be surprised if he puts down full time roots up there as it is not too far from where he grew up on Teesside.





Ricky Holmes
was remarkably still on the books at United much of last season as he saw out his contract. To call his signing a disaster would be unfair as he has been troubled with injuries throughout but this was a deal that excited a lot of Blades when it happened but he has never even been close to making an impact here. His initial spell saw him play 5 games in 17-18 but then he was never really involved in the promotions season despite playing some games pre-season and ended up at Oxford where he played for a period but then his back problem flared up. He came back but was transfer listed by the club after we got promoted and had not future with the Blades. He seemed to be fit as he was then loaned out to Gillingham for the season but never played a game and came back to the Lane around the Xmas period. We actually saw him in the Sander Berge videos. Holmes was quite candid about the issues recently saying, "I have been back at Sheffield for 15 months and had an operation to shave down the bulging disks in my back, which worked. I felt great and was back – then the same thing happened on my right-hand side. I was due to have a CT scan last month, but obviously couldn’t have it because everything has shut down. It might need an operation, but I am reluctant. I am 33 in the summer and am thinking. Do I have another operation to play 2-3 more years? Probably not, but I’m still in pain from day-to-day, so I need to get something sorted. Retirement in the summer looks imminent really. I think it’s inevitable, just for my health. We’ve recently had a baby and you don’t want to get to 40 and not be able to play in the park with them, do you? At the end of the day, it is just a game, albeit we’re in love with it. I want to retire on my own terms." I am not sure he has officially announced his retirement but it does seem like he is done. He did not contribute anything really at the Lane in over 2 years but got a lot of criticism for not playing or going on loan but it does seem like the injuries just stopped anything happening for him.



 

Deadbat

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Next season



After the defence this is the next strongest department of the team but we do have some more questions here in terms of moving forward. Fleck and Norwood, you would expect to start and not sure he will leave Berge out even though doubts remain over him in the position he has played mostly so far. He does need to improve to make ‘a’ spot his own. The other two dropped off after lockdown but I have faith they will come back to the standards they have set and showed at this level for most of the season.



Lundstram is up in the air. I would love him to get back to his best and us pool 3/4 from the above but feel his head may be already thinking of elsewhere. Osborn will do a nice job as cover but Luke Freeman has not convinced and barely played. I would not be shocked to see both Lundstram and L. Freeman move on and would be more surprised if they are both here to start the season. The latter needs to get fit and make more of an impact the odd chances he does get but not sure he will get ahead of the main starters sadly.



I did like what Besic did and think we miss a bit of a ratter who can get his foot in and make a difference physically. As we are playing with more of an orthodox three it remains to be seen if he would look for that flair/link man we had before – Freeman was meant to be that player but due to the form of others and the formation it did not work.



Ideally, we would keep the four main men above and sort Lundstram out to stay and get him back to the level of before and then bring in that physical type midfielder who can dig in and find a young-ish flair man too. We would have Osborn to fill in here and there. That is probably greedy though.



Not sure he will sign two but depends what happens with Lundstram and L. Freeman. Lots of rumours about Swift from Reading coming in. He seems a ball player, not maybe as forward thinking as Luke Freeman, but a technical type player who can pass and take decent set plays. I am not sure he would break into the midfield to start and it might be he has the same situation and has to take his chance also when they came. If those two depart then you would expect Swift (or someone like him) and one other to come in. So, it could be 1-2 signings depending on what happens with outgoings. Maybe he may even sign a wide man with pace as an option for when we might switch formations – I don’t know as we have tried that in the Wilder era and it never worked but we have never had the quality to try and switch things properly (no offence to Harry Chapman/Nathan Thomas and even Callum Robinson to some extent).



Player / Position Years remaining (contract expires) Red this yearOrange next year - Green longer contract –





Midfielders






Nathan Thomas Out of contract (2020)

Ricky Holmes Out of contract (2020)

Mark Duffy Out of contract (2020)


Ravel Morrison Out of contract (2020) - club option to extend to 2021

John Lundstram 1 year (2021)


Ben Osborn 2 years (2022)

Luke Freeman 2 years (2022)

Ollie Norwood 3 years (2023)

John Fleck 3 years (2023)

Sander Berge 4 years (2024)






Return to loan club:



Mo Besic back to Everton
 

Snowflake

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Again thanks.
What is worrying is that I agree with virtually all that you write, so there is little I can comment on !
 

Espania blade

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Agree with a lot of that DB. I think you have under estimated some players though, Lunny, for me is a better than you give him credit for,
he is always looking to get in and around the box scoring a few goals, something Fleck hasn't done this year, strong all round and a good "runner" I agree if a bid comes in he may go with only one year left on his contract, it makes financial sense although i would prefer if he signed a contract and stayed.

Berge, Kept improving the more he played and will be part of the first team next year.

Ditto Osborn, Berge and Osborn are still young and will be part of a "new immerging team" next year IMO

Norwood and Stevens, while good players and good characters both showed signs as to why other clubs deemed them not good enough for the Prem'
I do think that the middle of the park next year is going to interesting you could perm any three or four from five or six especially if the fringe players show signs of improvement aka Lunny at the beginning of this season.

It's going to be an interesting summer in who stays and who goes and who plays next reason, difficult to predict methinks, add to that a tweek to our playing style.
 

Bladeinleeds

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Enjoyable read as always.

Think we are going to need one or two more in midfield especially without besic and potentially lunny contributing

Imo we should be looking to take a player from a top club to really force the issue - a hendo type loan of someone we couldn’t afford to purchase outright could make a huge difference to the season.

Thinking like when palace got a talent like loftus-cheek.
 

coaxingstar71

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I'm going to put this on here now before I forget to do so later. Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to post these reports Deadbat . I can only imagine how much time it must have taken you but I know I once did one match report in your absence (Oxford 3-2 away in League 1 in case you were wondering) and that took me ages!

Great work mate. I see your mate, Bladesballer (I won't tag the poster as don't want to tempt them to come back), has not returned to offer their stunning insights into your work! Needless to say, an utter 🔔🔚
 

RammyBlade

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Great work Deadbat - I would like Lunny to stay as his box to box style and eye for a goal is certainly what we need.
 

hello

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Luke Freeman lacks the other parts to his game.
How did the midfield perform in the whole, post lockdown?
If I were Freeman if fuck off to s championship club as he's obviously fallen out with the King.
 

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