United Season Review & School Report 20-21 - Part Five Defence

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Deadbat

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2020/21 SUFC SEASON REVIEW / SCHOOL REPORT



Rest of week will be posted as below







Part 6 Midfield



Part 7 Attack



Part 8 Final awards / Conclusions





Defenders




*Note - this was written before the Jokanovic appointment – I have tried to update in sections but apologies if it refer to us not having a manager yet in sections!





Jack O’Connell
had a fantastic first season and continued his high level of play and consistency as the defence for the most part was rock solid. Talks of him being picked for England showed how valuable he was to the Blades. He had suffered an injury at the end of the last season though and missed a fair portion of the lockdown games towards the end of 19-20 season and you saw how much we missed him. When he came back, we improved but he also did not look quite right. He was deemed to be fit to start the 20-21 season but as we struggled in the first game you felt he was still maybe not 100% right and he lost headers/challenges he would normally win – I recall the two headed goals against Wolves and Villa he maybe could have done better and was not the dominant O’Connell we had seen before. Still, it was a new keeper behind him and we did have 10 men for much of the game at Villa where the defence did ok for the most part until the goal. He had not started the season as well as he would have like though and then before the Leeds game, we received the news that he had suffered a serious knee injury and would be out for the season. Whether this was a carry-over from issues he had last season we were not really told but it seemed to me he (like Fleck) had never been fully fit and the shortened close season meant he could never get right or even consider a possible operation.



United struggled massively without maybe their most important player and lost almost every week as we saw how much we missed him. Defensively we were conceding set play and headed goals every week and did not have the same attacking threat with Stevens and Fleck not looking the same as we had virtually no threat down the left.



It was rumoured he may be back earlier than envisaged and maybe before the end of the season but reportedly had a set-back in January and any hopes of him coming back seemed to be unlikely after this. The fact United had gone down and had nothing to play for meant it seemed daft rushing him back. Furthermore, for the club if had returned and showed he was fit then that surely would alert clubs who may be considering him as a possible signing. There are still question marks over his future in terms of coming back from a serious injury and also whether if he does, he will remain at United. It is concerning there was talk of possible further surgery and the fact he is not even training again would suggest he is not even close yet.



You would think if he got anywhere near the level of before, then someone will come and take him. Maybe we won’t quite get the fee we would have hoped now going down and after his lay off. The best cased scenario is he comes back and does really well and we can go back up and he remains. I fear that is unlikely. Of course, we want the O’Connell we knew and loved but if that is the case, then he is too good for the Championship. He must look at many players like Coady and Mings who have now been regulars in England squads and think he is as good or not better than these players. He always seems a very serious professional who wants to go the top and is incredibly driven. I sense now we have gone down he will probably want to remain at the top level once he is fit and not sure we could deny him that chance as long as we are suitable financially recompensed. Hope we at least see him for a part of the season if he does depart. Along with Wilder, JOC seems to be one of those that has been part of the journey from the start (Sharp, Basham and Fleck the others) so will be sad if he does go but at 27, he needs to be playing at the top level and is good enough to do it, if he can get back fit.



I have to admit the longer he was out the more concerned I became. I think if O'Connell is not back at preseason training with the squad, then the discussion over his future in football will grow.

We heard 3 or 4 months ago he was close to a return, then had a 'bit' of a setback. Now we have heard nothing from anyone for ages snd not seen him training or even around Shirecliffe?

He played a few games towards the end of last season (4 or 5) in July and the first two this but 7 games in 14 months (he was probably not right in these either) is s worry. His 'latest' injury in Sept is 8 months ago. To now seemingly not even be doing rehab or training seems odd. The club have not mentioned him recently as far as I am aware either? I am concerned that he is not even training/rehabbing....maybe they need to try again with another op? If they do then that's another season possibly and not many players come back after 2 years out of the game.

Maybe I am wrong but if he is not back training or close to even fitness now after 8 months (actually prob more like 11 if the original injury happened last June) then I think we have to be concerned? Even players with ACL injuries can be back quicker than this in some instances.


I am not sure we need to worry about losing him in a transfer move anytime soon but just getting him back at some point would be huge but there has to be concerns he will ever get to the level he had before. Sad really as looked a player that would go tight to the top. Hopefully my pessimism is misguided and he still can.



Grade C – On the 2 games he played (Last season A-)



Chris Basham Make no apology for digging back into my previous season review to show what I thought around a year ago (less as the season finished in July): ‘A fantastic season. Love the guy. A modern-day Bobby Booker but better. He is at the heart beat of the team and have loved his ascension through the leagues and what he has done. Shows for a footballer who may have been around the middle leagues, to actually work at your craft, get super fit and show determination, you can make it at the top even if it is in the later years of your career.’ Bash was another who was wrote off every jump we made through the leagues and kept proving everyone (including many Blades fans wrong). I had my doubts about him at top level – I do not mind saying that. I just thought it would be a step too far. He completely proved me wrong and was superb and for me our player of the season amidst some strong competition. His defensive play coupled with his driving runs and attacking slaloms made him so key to what we did.



A year older but I saw no reason why he could not be fine again at least short term and had signed a deal to keep him here until 2022. I thought that he and the rest of the defence were not as resolute early and we conceded some soft goals but his actual individual performances were ok. I look at my marks and I gave him 7 or 6.5 most weeks the opening months. He was one of the stand outs and one of the few who seemed to have kept close to his standards. Attacking wise not sure we saw the drive and threat we had but that was across the side really. We had a changed defence most weeks and a new keeper and there was uncertainty. Slowly, I felt mistakes started to creep in and he had some difficult games – I recall those games at Southampton and Palace and some disappointing home games v Everton/Spurs where he started to see his standards slip. I felt the confidence sapping nature of us losing every week meant big personalities like him, Egan and Baldock started to drop off too. They looked like their confidence was shot.



He did have a resurgence and recall him being superb in games against Man Utd and then also a superb showing against West Brom where he was everywhere. We tried him in midfield in a few games but that did not really work as we looked for something to give us a spark. He did score in a cup game (his first goal since that goal v Leeds) but I also thought that like the team, despite the above improvements, he could not maintain it. He then pulled his hamstring at Fulham and we did not see him for a period. He made a surprise return at Leicester but he and everyone else that played that day served up a shambles of a performance. He got another injury and after being almost ever present for 5 or 6 seasons, suddenly (maybe his age and all the games were catching up with him) he was not as regular as he had been in terms of playing every week but also playing consistently. He was out for a period injured and then it seemed worse than they thought and we did not him for quite a while. He came back at Spurs and gave a really honest interview after we got hammered and he struggled with the rest. His drop off continued at home to Palace when quicker players caused him issues. Back to his best at Goodison with some of the slalom runs and defensive blocks we have been accustomed to but then given a bit of a run around by Saint Maximim at St James Park. He showed a bit more of his old self at home to Burnley as he went through the wars coming on and off with head bandages!





It says something that Basham was still one of our top 3 performers and along with McGoldrick our best outfield player but he still did not hit the heights of last season. Some of that was down to others around him and the losing every week had an effect on him. I still felt he was one of the few that maybe escapes real censure from this car crash of a season. He will be 33 to start next season and only had a year left on his deal. I do not get the sense the club would do anything yet but I actually would not be averse to giving him another year even now as even if he we went back up and he was not a regular, I still think he would be a good squad player to have around. If we stay down then he will be fine at this level.



Not a player that other Premier League club will look at which is odd as you he is a fit lad (despite the injuries this year) and would be a great utility man for many clubs still at the top level. He will remain but again depends what we do with the formation as it is perfect for him and what a new manager wants to do. He has been a fantastic servant to this club and will go down in history for me as one of our best ever players (him and O’Connell have been the most consistent since the Wilder era and Bash served us ok the 2 years before that too). Coming up to his eighth season with the club, we probably won’t realise what a player and servant he has been until his time comes to an end.





Grade C (Last season A)



John Egan
His first season as a top flight player saw him cope quite comfortably. He was at the heart of a rock-solid defence that did not concede many or make many mistakes. Up to the lockdown you could argue along with half a dozen other starters, he had been remarkably consistent. I recall some superb performances, the game at Everton stands out, and where he coped with top level strikers really well. Brave, great in the air and won so many clearances/headers and blocks. He kept his shape as others went forward and often was able to just nick the ball away or come across and cover. After the lockdown it was odd as he finally scored two vital goals but then had some poor games and the sending off at Newcastle was an example of how if the team were not in a good shape, his lack of pace and habit of sometimes getting caught out was shown. We saw more of this in a few other games as the Blades started to ship goals for the first time in the season and faded away.



This season we had the normal three back (O’Connell had missed some games) but he had a difficult start with Wolves getting through us easily and then he got sent off, maybe harshly, at Villa. This once again showed his struggles with the ball over the top – that again we managed to protect through good shape and organisation. After his suspension, he came in and despite the defence and whole team struggling, I did feel he was one of the few who was trying to keep things together. Most games and defeats I felt it was more due to others than Egan making lots of mistakes. O’Connell being out meant he had to be the one attacking the high balls all the time as we struggled from set plays and we never really had a regular back line. Teams were scoring from corners and free kicks almost every game and knew if they kept it away from him, we had little other dominant headers of the ball (McBurnie the next best!). He did captain us in some games with Sharp and Norwood not always starting but I never felt we had great leadership all season (not a criticism of him directly but all of the side with no one getting hold of the side and saying this is unacceptable – we became a soft touch in short). He was a regular almost every week really and not sure he had many awful games but he was not at the standards he had been along with the rest. The ball over the top was an issue but then so was the set play/high balls. Teams were scoring against us in a variety of ways and you felt some narrow defeats could have been a lot more. He maybe was not making lots of individual mistakes but you just sensed even him and Baldock (who had started ok) even dropped off and started to become as poor as the rest. He then got an injury in the game at West Ham and was out for a period after that. Another who only had 2 wins in league competition (missed Man Utd and Villa). He came back after Wilder had left and saw action briefly at Leeds and then started the final games but he struggled with the quality of Spurs showed his limitations again and then was run through easily in the opening goal against Palace. Played well at Goodison in a better defensive effort but then his lack of pace and indeed domination was shown where they ran through us at Newcastle and he looked painfully slow. Did ok in the final game against Chris Wood though.



One that you would feel had a definite drop off but maybe will escape as much criticism as the others. He was playing every week right up to mid-February and only missed the odd game before that so the argument he was not part of things does not hold up. However, I do think he was not as culpable as others and at times him and Basham seemed to the only players in the back 8 (until Ramsdale improved) that seemed to be driving us forward or actually really throwing their body on the line. In terms of his future, a player that you would have thought teams may have some interest in but the season he has had and the team has had will not have helped his transfer fee/reputation. You look at Godfrey at Norwich (albeit younger – 22 when he was sold) who went for 25 million as part of a relegated team and you still think he may command attention. I am not sure how he would do in flat back four as his lack of pace would hinder him but I am sure he could do a job for a few of the bottom half Premier League teams. Whether they would spend big money on a player soon to be 29, I am not sure? His age may put teams off and he does not have the athleticism, ball playing ability teams might look for. Still if you were a promoted side like Norwich, Watford or some of those other sides (say Burnley let Tarkowski go) around the bottom half they may have a sniff. We will see. If he does not leave this summer then he won’t go I do not think so he/agent may want to see who may be interested. He does have three years left on his contract though so to counteract the age argument; this may mean the fee would still be decent. I am not sure we would get more than 10-15 million though if we did sell. People may say I am underselling him but as I say teams will not spend stupid money on centre backs who even though I love what he does is quite basic (head it out/kick it out types) and look for more ball players which wrongly seems to be more of the fashion these days. This may mean he stays and again we know at Championship level he should dominate and be a key man for us.



Grade D+ (Last season A-)

 

Deadbat

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George Baldock
Last year I wrote the following in summarising Baldock’s season: ‘He has now become a solid and established Premier League player. At 27 entering his prime too. Shame that there is such good talent at right back for his country (Alexander Arnold, Tripper, Walker, Wan Bissaka etc) as if there was not, he may be mentioned as a possible contender for international recognition – yes, he has been that good. A great season and one of the players who mostly kept his standards after we came back from the lock down – with only a few off-key games. The one big stat that shows how consistent/fit and reliable is that he has played every minute - 3,400 minutes. There were only eleven players to do that – seven of the eleven were keepers. Baldock, Tarkowski, Coady and Ward Prowse were the only four outfield to do it also.’



We go on 12 months and he is now not even an automatic starter for us. Granted generally when he was fit, he played most games either right wing back or later on right centre back. Still with Bogle here and his form dropping off along with him having injuries for the first time in his Blades career, he has not quite built on his excellent first season. He actually began the season ok after a bad game against Wolves and maybe the competition of Bogle spurred him on and I felt he was one of our better players to start the season. I am not sure he made as many mistakes as some of the other defenders and was competitive and looked like one of the few where he really cared. I recall him being interviewed and it clearly hurt him all the losing. I would say other than the odd decent cross or run, his attacking play was really poor. His crossing actually got became even worse than it had been before (not been great) and it got to the point of where he stopped crossing and came back inside such was his inability to either not hit the first man or overplay it. As I say I do think he was one of our better players but still was not at the heights of last season and that showed how bad the rest had been! He was still streets ahead of Stevens most weeks. The defence were put under too much pressure and not sure Bogle and then latterly Lundstram were that helpful in coming back and defending and we had runners coming through from midfield constantly.



I thought his performances started to drop off a bit and his standards dropped. He continued to show his aggression but some poor tackles and fouls meant how he did not get more yellow cards or even get sent off (Leeds) was a shock really and he was quite fortunate. The run of games around Xmas the whole team were poor but he picked up a bit and played well at Old Trafford. However, his performances generally were trending down and he struggled in games at Fulham and against Liverpool. He came back with a resolute effort against Villa and ended up playing some games at right sided centre back. I was not totally convinced by hm here as he did have a propensity for ball watching. At Chelsea and Leeds his clumsy fouls were not helpful. I thought he looked very timid going forward and stopped even trying to drive or attack defences, let alone cross it. He carried on being move about from centre back to right wing back but always gave his all and seemed to really care. Always gave his all and felt his commitment could not be ever questioned but even his defensive quality dropped off. He did keep trying and was our best outfield player v Palace and showed his fight at Everton in a more together defensive effort before getting a knock but played in the win in the final game.





Overall, like much of this side, his reputation has taken a hit though. How can they not in a defence that is conceding and losing every week? I thought he started ok but then started to fade and he too made mistakes and his enthusiasm and drive was often mischanneled. We actually looked more dangerous attacking wise when Bogle came in (not as good defensively but Baldock had dropped off in this regard) and now there were doubts whether Baldock was the automatic starter when both fit and we had the central defenders fit. I think earlier in the season as it became clear we were probably going down, there was talk of Baldock being one teams may look at. I think now that unless someone took him as a backup, that he has played himself out of such a move and will have to rebuild his reputation somewhat at a lower level. Shame as I believe he is one that with some improvements actually could be an ok Premier League right back/right wing back. Sadly, his rashness and his lack of attacking threat (teams desire that now) means I am undecided whether he will get to that level again. I got criticised for saying that outside of maybe Berge, Egan and O’Connell – that none will get to the level they have got to again. You could make a case for Ramsdale maybe but there are a few such as Baldock that have a huge season in where their career trajectory goes. The likes of him and Stevens were League 1/2 players for a lot longer than they were Champ/Premier league players so have to show that actually they are at that level. I do have no doubt that Baldock should and will be a competent at the lower level and should be fine. It will be interesting what happens with Bogle though as both will want to play and it is maybe the one position along with keeper, where I expect neither to leave and we will be ok next season.





Grade C- (Last season A-)





Enda Stevens
A meteoric rise from Stevens saw him go from League Two to the Championship, where the established himself, to the top flight. I had questions over whether he would be able to cope with the pace, power and dynamism at the top level. I did not feel he was quite up there in these areas and that wingers/forwards at this level may expose him. I also thought he may not spend as much time up the other end, which of course was where he excelled so much in the Championship season. I felt he started the season a bit reserved but gradually United and he, grew into the league and became more adventurous. He showed his excellent skill and underrated turn of pace as he assisted quite a few goals (Chelsea away, Burnley/Bournemouth at home to name a few) and also had that knack of being able to nutmeg players and did this quite a bit in the early months. Had that little drag back where he comes back and then goes inside. Also, the bit of skill where he plays a one two and is off before it has left his feet – like a cricketer backing up at the non striking end almost! He also executes that throw in one-two better than anyone in the team. Him and Fleck (and Jack) continued to link well. I thought what pleased me the most was his defensive work also as this was sound most of the season. He got a few goals, a header at Norwich showing how advanced they get from the wing backs – Baldock crossed this too and a howitzer of a shot v Brighton – a contender for individual goal of the season. He was excellent and like United really surprised how comfortable he was. He was arguably right up there as one of the best left backs/wing backs in the country!



Lockdown had a huge effect on United, both the end of last season and of course this one. Even from June onwards, he looked a different player for much of it. He was abysmal in the opening 3 away games (as were most of the team) but he stood out. He could not pass, control or do the basics and his massive blooper v Newcastle summed him up. He slowly got better in that mid-section of games and played really well in the wins (great assist v Chelsea) we had but then he, like the rest of the team, dropped off. Just looked like he had lost his sharpness and his basic things did not come off and mistakes started creeping in. My mate said it was like he has the yips and I know what he meant.



I expected him to come back this season strong as seemed a really good pro whose form over 3 seasons meant a run of poor games was just that, a run. However, he never got going at all this season. He began is his normal position but just struggled making mistakes and not looking a threat going forward. O’Connell and Fleck were both out but even when the latter was back, his form was poor and we had not threat attacking wise down this side and defensively looked suspect as we shipped goals every week. I am not sure he had many good games at all and then was moved inside to left centre back but lost his man for the winner at Liverpool and recall other errors leading to goals. He was moved about quite a bit but did not improve his form. He put in two mares at Southampton and Palace. Suddenly he could not even do the basics right and he was wretched most weeks. Oddly he kept his place as Lowe (who had come in when he went to left centre back) did not convince. It was maybe not a coincidence that as United picked up some wins he only played in one of those (Villa). The two games that book ended Wilder’s departure I thought he was terrible and then as he came back into centre back made more errors for goals with Leeds scoring directly from another time, he would not use his right foot. Even in a game he did a bit better in v Wolves, his miss and then mis control saw Wolves break and score! Carried on playing poorly in the final games with the basics completely missing from his game until a really good and surprise performance at Goodison Park where it was like the Stevens of old but then was back to the same out of form player we had seen for well over a year, at Newcastle but did end the season with a better outing at home to Burnley. Maybe he just needs the fans!



It is bizarre that 3 players (Fleck and Norwood) have literally gone from being Premier League stand outs to players who are just out of their depth at this level. The other two I can kind of argue. Norwood was well protected by a good defence and had been dumped by others at this level. Fleck has always struggled when out of the team and had injuries. Stevens’s decline has been remarkable. Even for Ireland where he had done well, he continued his sub-standard performances. He will be 31 when the next season starts.



He seems a player that is just on the decline and we did not even see some glimpses (we did with Fleck and even Norwood at times) last season. I have to say he was maybe the biggest disappointment of the senior players but then United should have taken him out of the team. Some games his body language suggested to me that even he did not want to be there. I do worry that he has literally just ‘lost it’. Maybe he will get his confidence back and come good but his age and the fact we have young players like Norrington Davies, Lowe and even Osborn behind him means he is going to have to find form quick. I think we do need to move some on due to the losing culture that enveloped the club and he is certainly one if a club came in, I would probably say, ‘Thank you but good luck.’ Such a shame as another that has been such a part of the last 2-3 seasons but there cannot be sympathy and we lost pretty much every game he played. We simply cannot have room for sympathy and need to be ruthless and need some turnover of players to change the culture back to a more positive one.



Grade F+ (Last season A-)



Phil Jagielka
He had not played that much in the 19-20 season with the two games against Manchester United seeing us concede 6 goals but come on as sub in a few games and helped us over the line. Just seemed a decent pro to have around for his experience at the top level and seemed a good way to finish his career. If I was him (and United) I would have moved on at the end of last season. It seemed like a nice way for him to finish but he ended up with another year. I felt after the odd game last season that we had seen his legs had almost gone and felt it was the wrong move to bring him back. It seemed we had taken the easy option rather than try and bring in a younger player or one that could improve and develop as a back-up.



He struggled in the League Cup game at Burnley but even with O’Connell out and Egan suspended and Ampadu/Robinson/Stevens not impressing in the central positions, he still did not play. He came in at Southampton and the whole side was shocking, he was at fault partly for the first goal but actually was maybe the best of a bad bunch! Came on for Berge against Man Utd and again struggled with the pace they had as we conceded 3 more goals to them. He really struggled in this game and you felt again he could not keep up with the athletes at this level any more. He went back to the bench again and ironically his next start was against Man Utd away as once again injuries meant needs must. He gave a superb performance and really rolled back the years in this game as he was man of the match in a shock win. It was great to see. Maybe he should have just packed in there and then! After this he came back for Fulham and Liverpool but it was more of a struggle with the latter exposing him and his error led to the first goal. He then was sent off for a tackle against Villa a few days later. It seemed harsh but the desperation of the tackle again showed up that he could not really keep up anymore despite at times him showing good experience and leadership.



He came back in the cup game at Chelsea after a really difficult week when his brother passed away showing incredible bravery and dedication to his profession. He played well too in a decent United effort. The next league game he kept his place but scored an own goal at Leeds before Egan returned. That was his final start for United and was on the bench as the season petered out but did end up coming on as captain in the last game as he entered as a late sub which was nice.



Out of contact and now and you would think he will probably pack up. Not sure at 39 as next season starts, what he has to gain by playing another year lower down the leagues? Hope he retires and then can decide the next stage of his career. Would be good if United could find a role for him in the Academy but then he may not want to go into coaching.



As this season finishes, he is approaching nearly 700 appearances in all competitions and nearly 400 of these in the top flight. He has had a brilliant career, playing 40 times for England and representing his country at the World Cup and European Championships. He is a legend at Everton and United having captained both for long spells. His second spell at United is probably not how I remember him. He was ok but struggled at times but the Man Utd performance will be his stand out moment. My memory of him is more of when he was playing for us in that first spell, outpacing Henry and making crucial tackles/blocks in the 4-3 epic v Forest.



It is funny to think that when I saw him come through at Abbeydale back in the late 90s’s, I thought he looked a tidy footballer but never did I think he would have the distinguished career he had. Can be very proud of what he has achieved. One of the best United players in my lifetime no doubt.



Grade D (Last season C)

 

Deadbat

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Ethan Ampadu
Signed for Chelsea at only 17 after being a first teamer at only 15 at Exeter! He was never going to be close to the Chelsea first team but did make his debut in the EFL cup and also as a sub in the league in the 17-18 season. He must have impressed the Chelsea brass though and signed a 5-year contract in September of 2018. He did well for Wales U21’s and then ended up playing for the full national side at the age of 17.



He was allowed to go on loan to Germany and RB Leipzig for the 19-20 season but rarely played and only started 3 games but said he learnt a lot from the experience. Wilder wanting an option in defensive midfield and also cover across the defence, felt Ampadu could be an asset and signed him on a season long loan. On the face of it seemed a decent lad with some energy, mobility and liked a tackle from the bits I had seen of him for Wales! He was maybe known most for his long dreadlocks and extravagant hairstyle which had been completely chopped by the time he arrived at the Lane.



Began on the bench, playing in the League Cup game but he was given a start after O’Connell and Egan both were not available against Leeds. He had come on at Villa after Egan had been sent off the previous week and done pretty well. Against Leeds we saw glimpses of quality but he also made mistakes too. This theme continued for a good portion of the season. It was still unclear whether he was a defender or midfielder but an excellent performance in the middle of the park at Anfield added weight to the latter argument. Sadly, he was shocking in a game at home to Man City the next week. He then ended up back in defence for a period and recall him being terrible at Southampton and around the Xmas time he continued to play in defence. Around this time United offered up some really bad showings at Burnley and Palace. He did some good things in games but then would switch off and lead to errors directly to goals.



I would say he did improve though and he was excellent at Old Trafford and against Newcastle and Villa in three victories. I thought as the season went on, he seemed to be more consistent and actually in a side that was offering abject shows he was one of the few who was ‘ok’ as the season limped on. I am not sure he was fantastic but maybe as I say one of the players who did not deserve the weekly criticism many seemed to get. I am not convinced he has the defensive awareness to play centre back ad Lacazette exposed him badly in the game at the Lane. He also was slow to react in the Wolves winner losing his man. He was taken out as we started to look maybe towards next season when he will not be here.



It is interesting though that he has had some good performances but a quick scour of goals (I do this for Norwood too as the main two players who seemed to have cost us goals this season directly – granted lots of had errors to goals – Stevens stands out as another). This is not to scapegoat him – as I say at least half a dozen or more performed worse as first teamers but shows the sort of mistakes we/he was making.


Southampton (A) Lost header in the build up to Adams’s goal

Burnley (A) Completely outmuscled by Mee who scored from a corner

Palace (A) Let Eze just run straight through him *Joint with Norwood

West Ham (A) 2nd goal - free header from a corner - overpowered again

Fulham (A) Error as let Lookman walk through him

Southampton (H) Gave away stupid penalty for 1st goal

Leicester (A) 4th lost it running through. They broke and scored

Leicester (A) Own goal for 5th



I am still not convinced whether he is a defender or a midfielder. He is technically not bad and had some lung bursting runs and shown he can move with the ball and bring it out. Still gives it away a fair bit also but maybe one of the few who can penetrate and carry it in the whole squad. At times I felt his body language was that of a player who knew he was on a sinking ship and maybe wished he was back at Chelsea. I do not see him competing anytime soon for a first team place here though and expect he will go out on loan again next season. With 2 more years left of his contract at Stamford Bridge not sure like many others he will ever make it here due to the huge talent laden squad they have. Jamal Blackman is nearly 28 and been with Chelsea for nearly 10 years and had 8 loan deals – his contract is finally up this summer incidentally! Going back to Ampadu, some have said they would have him back next year on loan but not for me. We have too much of a losing culture now and need to freshen things up so any out of contract or on loan I would not retain. After a season of losing every single week, we need some freshness and players not been part of such a debacle this season. Not sure where I see his career going – probably similar to Blackman – lots of loans until his Chelsea deal runs out. He is still fairly young – not even 21 so still time for him but he has work to do to make it at the top level.



Grade D- (Last season NA)







Jayden Bogle was a player that I actually was always quite impressed by when I saw him at Derby. A decent size, quick and quite athletic, he always seemed to be in the opposition box and that is a feature we have loved in our defenders/wing backs! He was seen as maybe the main one of the 11 million double deal. We had of course been after Cash it seemed but Bogle was the next option and I thought for the cash (pun intended) we spent, he was ok and not too worried we had signed Bogle instead. He was a player I had always rated. Cash of course did go on and have a decent season at Villa but most of us after the season Baldock had, did not think we needed a new starter in this area. Sure, his end product was not always there but I thought GB would improve and his defensive abilities meant he would remain first choice but that Bogle was good young back up who could provide genuine competition.



I was surprised he had only just turned 20 as seemed to have been around for ages. Like with Ramsdale and Brewster, these seemed on the surface good signings with young English players that would improve you thought. He was not on the bench opening day but then him and Lowe did well in the League Cup tie and you thought both would be on the bench moving forward but oddly Bogle was not selected in any match day squads. Baldock was doing ok but as the season progressed his form dropped and lack of attacking threat with poor crosses and output in the final third, made many wonder why Bogle was not being considered as a viable alternative. It was strange with United losing every week that he was not even on the subs bench.



Finally, he was given a chance as he came on at Brighton, scored and played well! This was remarkably the first time he had even been on the bench too. His reward was going back to the bench but then started at Palace but struggled and showed his weaknesses defensively but he was one of the bright spots going forward. He then did well at Bristol Rovers and scored the winner with a really well taken goal. I thought he did well against Newcastle too but again in other games (Spurs) showed at times he would make mistakes (completely outjumped for the opening goal). His form was quite inconsistent being good at Man Utd and then struggling at Man City and making another mistake for the winner. Not sure he was any worse than most of the other United players around this time and his selection/s at least saw us offer more attacking wise and get some points! He scored another good goal against West Brom and was clearly a very good finisher who got in good areas. He remained in the side but again his defensive decisions were called into question in games v Chelsea and at West Ham. He occasionally would ball watch or lose his man. Attacking wise he seemed more alert/interested and was exactly how Derby fans had billed him! He was then taken out as Wilder continued to make some bizarre decisions with others remaining as starters despite consistently being poor. He was one of our bright sparks coming on at Fulham and he was felled for a penalty not given. He came back into the side for Wilder’s final game v Southampton but struggled as did the whole side. As Baldock went to right centre back, Bogle ended up right wing back but again we saw his lack of concentration at Leeds (first goal) and the he went off concussed. Baldock then went back to right wing back and he was back in reserve. He did start against Brighton but I felt struggled and like much of the rest not sure he was able to maintain any kind of form and was taken off at Spurs. He showed his defensive weaknesses in the game at St James Park and I felt he just did not go on and quite show what he did in that purple patch January time.





A player that I think with further coaching and working on his defending has real potential. Whether we keep both him and Baldock I am not sure. I do not see any Premier League club taking either really and so ideally both could alternate. I think Bogle offers more attacking wide but Baldock is a better defender. Ideally you would merge both. At the lower level maybe, Bogle might be more useful so be interesting to see who the new manager goes with. I do think both should be fine at the lower level and the on position along with keeper, we should be ok really in the short term and maybe even long term if Bogle can keep improving. Bogle made a good start but then seemed to drop off. He has to get back to those standards of Jan-Feb when he showed us something we did not have in the side (goal and attacking threat from wide).







Grade D+ (Last season NA)





Max Lowe
Signed as part of the Bogle double deal – Lowe was maybe not seen as the main signing with Bogle maybe being valued more and perhaps seen as the player who may make more of an impact. Lowe had showed some promise as a youngster at Derby but 2018 to 2019, he ended up out on loan at Shrewsbury and Aberdeen. He came back and played 29 games and was in the side more than he was not but received mixed reviews. Decent on the ball and not bad going forward, the reports seemed remarkably similar to the ones on Bogle. He was not seen a major loss from Derby fans overall who were not certain he was quite up the higher level having been up and down at Championship level. Bit older than Bogle at 23 when he signed (now 24) he was billed as quick and a decent footballer if not having the raw power/impact Bogle could have. With Stevens around, you felt he would be the back-up and might not play much.



He started the season on the bench (oddly Bogle did not) and did well in the cup game at Burnley and set up the goal. He remained as sub but then started against Fulham as Stevens was put inside to left centre back. I think he struggled and came off with concussion not lasting the first half out! He came back against Man City but not sure he looked that secure and this continued in a really difficult game at Stamford Bridge where he was at fault for a few goals. His struggles continued but due to injuries and lack of options he remained in the side. He did a bit better at West Brom but then I thought he was shocking in the home game against Leicester and recall writing he was nowhere near Premier League standard. Did not stop his man, poor in the tackle and quite weak. I also felt positionally he was poor. He did ok when he went forward with some ok runs and crosses. It said something though that Stevens form had really dropped and he played and looked no better in the early games.



Credit to him when he did get another chance, he made 3 straight starts against West Brom, Chelsea and Bristol City (hit the bar in this game) and I thought he improved and played quite well against West Brom in the home win. He then was taken out which seemed odd as he had done better and not sure we saw him again after this as he was on the bench and did not come on.



It was a bit of an odd signing as with Norrington Davies about and also Osborn who could play there Stevens had been so good for years so unsure why he was part of the Bogle deal – surely, we could have done it with just one coming in? It seemed Wilder wanted Robinson from Wigan and then when Fulham usurped us, he was the plan B. Anyway, his performances on the whole indicated he was not quite up the top level. Maybe as he had done ok at Derby, he would be ok at the lower level. Stevens’s future is less than secure after a bad season but I would rather we tried Norrington Davies and/or Osborn in this area. If Stevens goes then maybe he can stay as a back up option and as I say thrive more against players at a lower level. Another like Robinson, Rodwell etc that just seemed an unnecessary signing. I would not be shocked if he moves on relatively quickly. He was just another poor signing that I am not sure would even be good enough at the lower level.



Grade E+ (Last season NA)



Jack Robinson A player Wilder had chased before when he was out of contract at QPR but he went to Forest and did quite well before falling out of favour a bit. He had a decent pedigree having begun his career at Liverpool and made his debut as a 16-year-old. I felt maybe in the Championship he would have been a decent cover option but at the higher level it seemed a strange one as he did not seem to have the quality to play at this level. Granted, Robinson could cover left centre back and left back – but I did think that 2-and-a-half-year contract still was a bit much for someone who had not even nailed down a regular place in the Championship.



With O’Connell injured he ended up playing in the games after the break and did well at Villa but then struggled with the rest of the team as we shipped a fair few goals. As the season began you felt the normal back 3 would play and so it proved to start the season but then the O’Connell injury changed it all. He ended up starting 9 games up to the New Year. He was in and out such was his form and played mainly left centre back but he was not great and the fact we kept trying different people summed him up. I recall a number of games where he was physically outmuscled by strikers which was odd as he is not small. He was directly at fault for the Leeds winner and then made mistakes in the Fulham home game conceding a penalty and losing his man routinely. He was dropped for a spell and came back for the West Ham game but again showed why he had not been selected. Quite slow, offering little going forward (even his long throw did not seem as long or threatening as it was last season). He was again taken out as Ampadu and even Stevens were preferred. I do recall him coming back for the Man Utd and Brighton games but again looked quite ordinary as we gave up too many chances and goals. He was particularly poor then at home to Everton and away at Burnley making errors and again losing his man. He was not picked again although I saw Wilder saw he had an injury but he was never really mentioned like O’Connell, Berge and others when those unavailable were being discussed and like Rodwell and a few others, just seemed to be never around or disappeared without an explanation. Even when Heckingbottom came in, I am not sure he was ever mentioned as being out as he was never part of the match day squads? He was then referred to as being out but might be back before the end of the season. Was on the bench for some of the final games and given a start was really good at Everton back in his home town with maybe his best game for the club. Made an error in the game at Newcastle in the lead up to the goal but was my man of the match in the final game and actually ended the season ok.



Technically not really up this level, he was another that was painfully slow and lacking in athleticism and power to deal with the athletes and skilled players at this level. Just not up to the level really. Worryingly I am not even sure he would be a regular at the level below and regardless of what happens with O’Connell, Egan etc, you would not want him starting games. He has been here a while now and even Wilder seemed to realise quite quickly, like he has with other players (Leonard, Lee Evans, Holmes that he chased a while!) that he was not really up to it sadly.



He has another year left but one you would like to think we would move on as do not see him being part of our plans moving forward. We need dynamic players who are consistent and can improve. He is not really any of those. I think he is a player that will probably stay as a pro for a good few years (if he gets fit) but expect him to be around the lower leagues as he has been unable to become close to a regular or establishing himself at Forest or United in the last 3 or 4 seasons.



Grade D (Last season B-)
 

Deadbat

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Kean Bryan The past two seasons I have been quite scathing of Bryan in these end of season reviews. He had only played in occasional cup games and not endeared himself at all. I thought he looked terrible whenever he played. Technically lacking and mistake ridden, he looked miles off being a pro footballer at any level I felt. He had been signed as a promising player when we signed him from Man City at the start of the 18-19 season and we even beat off competition from Rangers to get him. However, he picked up a few injuries and then was nowhere near the first team as the defence did so well in a promotion season. He was maybe best known for his more famous wife, a Coronation Street actress! Last season after more struggles in his brief performances he went to Bolton in January, 2020 on a 6-month loan deal.



In a struggling side he did not even particularly stand out there as Bolton got relegated and his future seemed really uncertain. He still had another year under his contract so came back to the Lane but you did not think he would be close to the first team but we did not bring in any other central defensive reinforcements and he, Jagielka and Rodwell were retained as back-ups. He was not even on the bench though until a series of injuries and poor form saw him get a surprise start away at West Brom. He made a few mistakes early and one led to the goal. He then showed his deficiencies again in a defeat at home to Leicester the next week. He was back on the bench for a period but then did return at Man Utd and played really well, scoring and looking competent in everything he did. It was a remarkable performance considering how bad he had been before this. He did get a knock and was only on the bench the next game. After this he seemed to get confidence and, in the games, he played was respectable. However, he did make a bad error at home to Chelsea costing us the game with the lead up to the penalty – this was a shame as he had been ok in this game too. He was ok against Fulham and Liverpool and not the worst player and then was excellent against Villa as he and Ampadu I felt were outstanding, especially after Jagielka was sent off. There seemed to be a calmness about him we had not seen before and maybe getting games, he just started to relax more. He was not great in the games v Southampton and Leicester but then no one was as the whole team struggled. He ended up back on the bench as Egan returned. He came back at Wolves but made an error that contributed to the winner. His habit of making poor mistakes in otherwise ok performances continued sadly. He did ok against Brighton but his lack of technical ability showed up again then he got an injury but started against Palace and struggled again.



He had certainly made strides forward this year going from someone who looked woeful to being ok/respectable. Still not totally convincing and not sure I would want him a starter moving forward even Championship level. On one hand I would not have an issue with giving him a year as a back up but then I also think has he done enough over the last 3 years and should we be looking for more consistent players. I was surprised when reports had Fulham, Burnley and Swansea looking at him as he was going to be a free agent. Despite his improvements, 3 or 4 decent showings don’t really convince me he is anywhere near good enough for the top flight (to play regularly and would have similar reservations in the Championship. If these reports are true then he will move on as we won’t offer him a deal to match some of the above, I would not think. If I had to say keep or release, I’d probably go for the latter as don’t see a player that is going to be a regular moving forward. He has just not played enough or well enough to keep.



Grade D (Last season E-)





The rest



Jack Rodwell
Always seemed an odd signing to me. He had completely lost his way after being seen as the next big thing at Everton and City spent a lot of money on him (15 million) and he only played 16 games for City and was let go but Sunderland still spent 10 million on him and he still was seen as a talent at this time back in 2014. In 3 and half year there; it was a disaster as he barely played, they nosedived down the leagues and his reputation took a hit simply for the fact they gave him a huge contract with no relegation clauses in it. There was some talk about if he was refusing to play and the documentary painted him a particularly poor light although it did not give him chance to put his side across. He then did ok at Blackburn a few years ago but was released. He ended up training at United but not sure anyone thought he would end up signing but Wilder was impressed and also probably saw someone who could cover a number of positions. He signed to the end of the season but probably knew his chances would be limited. He did go straight into the team for the FA Cup game v Flyde but his performance was a bit, ‘Meh.’ After this we did not see him at all until a surprise appearance v Burnley as a late sub when many neutrals were shocked, he was still playing football, let alone still in the Premier League judging by the reactions on twitter.



Why we opted to resign him I have no idea as he was given a one-year contract extension. He was never around the first team squad. Some said he was injured. I never even saw him in the training videos. It was like he had disappeared. Even when we could not name the requisite subs, he was still never part of things. It seemed just like Jack Robinson; he was still at the club but maybe his wages were based on appearances (even on the bench). Just seemed a strange situation and surely now he will move on. He has spent over 18 months at the club and played one game (and one briefly as sub) and not even played for the u23’s or been on the bench hardly! Heckingbottom was asked about him mid-April and just said he was still injured with no details on the specifics.



Now 30, surely his next club will be League 1-2 or will he even stay in the game? Gone from being a big money signing seen as the next big thing (he got the same type of hype Foden did when he was younger) to now effectively on the scrapheap.



Rhys Norrington Davies Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as Norrington Davies’ Dad was in the army, he spent his formative years in a number of places including Kenya! He was actually educated in Croydon but then the family returned back to their roots in Aberystwyth and the Welsh defender began his career at Swansea. It seemed he was going to be released by the then Premier League side and the Blades picked him up for their u23 squad in July 2017. He impressed in the academy showing he had a sweet left foot and United’s system played through all the levels seemed to make him perfect for the left-wing back role. He was loaned to Barrow for the 18-19 season and earned plaudits for some really impressive performances in the National League. He was given some time back with the first team in pre-season before the Blades began play back in the Premier League and impressed Wilder and the coaches.



He was then loaned out to Rochdale in League One for the 19-20 season and did similarly well at a higher level – he showed he could play left wing back, left back and also left sided centre back in a 3 and a 2. At both clubs the fans and management were suitably impressed and he was a regular for the Welsh national sides at various youth levels and ended up playing for the u21 side making 14 appearances.



United clearly had kept tabs on him and saw him as someone they could move up the leagues in loan deals until he was ready to compete. It seemed odd that with Enda Stevens about that Max Lowe came in to provide competition when Norrington Davies seemed the heir apparent. Norrington Davies went to Luton and continued to show he was competent and could cope at another step up. Luton fans also enthused about his play. He set up a few goals and played 22 games and was a regular as Luton made a good start and were higher than many thoughts. He signed a new contract with the Blades but then surprisingly as his loan was up, was allowed to go to Stoke instead of returning to Luton. Perhaps the Blades wanted to see him at a bigger club with greater pressure on him but it was not as if fans were attending – maybe the cynic in me just feels Stoke offered a bigger loan fee than Luton! He continued to do pretty well at his next club (one red card apart) and showed not only was he decent at crossing and getting forward, he also had a feisty/physical side too. He seemed to be a regular for a Stoke side that finished mid table. He ended up also making his full Wales debut last October and has played 4 times and done pretty well.



I expect him to come back this preseason. Stevens’s form dropped off a cliff and him and Lowe surely have a genuine chance to try and win the shirt in this position. A lot may depend on what we do formation wise. If we move to a flat back 4 this may complicate matters for all three of them. I would not be averse to moving the older Stevens on and letting Norrington Davies and Lowe battle it out. The latter has not totally convinced but was playing at a higher level than RND – but he latter does not have the scars of last season’s disastrous campaign and will be one of few players where confidence should not be an issue. I hope he is given an opportunity. One thing is certain, if Stevens carries on playing as he was if retained, then he won’t be remaining the starter for long.







Kyron Gordon
Gordon has continued to steadily come through the ranks. He has spent some time on the bench and was there a fair bit as the season drew to a close. In terms of the youngsters, I have seen then it is hard to pick one or any that you think could come through but from what I have seen the lad Gordon looks a good athlete and a decent size and technically sound. The others being more forward based are a bit flashier but I will say keep an eye on Gordon. I saw him when he was 15 and I liked him then. He has steadily worked his way up and now is around the first team squad. Another who may benefit from a loan spell possibly. Will depend on what happens with likes of Egan and O’Connell but believe he is right sided so would be more likely backing up Basham. I would rather he had a go than a Bryan/Jack Robinson in terms of opportunities.



Oluwafemi Ibrahim Seriki came to us from Bury after they were expelled from the league (had a few sub appearances for the League One side) and over the last 12 months steadily has improved and been a key man for the u23’s as they won their league. Quick, strong and athletic. He bombs up and down the right wing and looks a player that has a bright future. He loves to get in the box and has set up a fair few goals and scored a number too. He was given his bow briefly at St James Park. Think he may need some loan time next season but he is one to keep an eye on.



Next season



Such a strong area of the side but now uncertainly even here. A lot depends on where we go with formations and what a new manager wishes to do. Egan is the solid centre back in the middle but he had a mixed season with injuries and inconsistent form. I am not sure he will be a target of many top flight clubs and expect him to remain and he will be solid at the Championship. Bash is still a great servant but he dropped off a bit and is getting on now and only has a year left but you expect him still to start next season. O’Connell there are big questions over his fitness more than him leaving and not sure we can really bank on him being back and fit and firing. With questions over Robinson and Bryan (both sadly are not good enough – even for a lower level) and Jagielka and Rodwell you expect to move on, we have no depth at all let alone starting quality if we play three. So we will need at least 2 or 3 in this area. Maybe Gordon can come in and compete but a lot to ask in the hurly burly of the Championship. Whilst Baldock also dropped off a bit, the effort was always there and Bogle showed some flashes so we are fine here. Maybe carrying both at the lower level might be hard when we will have a smaller squad and need to trim wages. This position we are ok at and with young Seriki in the mix probably along with keeper (if we sort the back up) the areas we are fine. Left wing back has many questions. Stevens was atrocious last season. He might have reached the end unless he had a huge turnaround the other way. Lowe looked out of his depth and lacked qualities we need going both ways. Osborn was ok when filling In but not sure it is his position to start most weeks. The lad who might get the shirt to start is Norrington Davies- as he did well at this level with two clubs. As I pen this, I would suggest Ramsdale, Egan, Basham, Baldock, Norrington Davies and fingers crosses over O’Connell, if we go with a 5 at the back (or 3 as you would hope with the wing backs much more advanced at a lower tier). However, questions remain over the latter two if they can be fit or step up. Regardless there are still questions with the defence and the backs up and the quality is non existent if those mentioned moved on. With the midfield being such a priority and the strike force being completely ineffective, it might not be an area of priority for the new manager though yet.





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





Defenders




Phil Jagielka Out of contract (2021)

Kean Bryan Out of contract (2021)

Jack Rodwell Out of contract (2021)

Chris Basham 1 year (2022)

Jack Robinson 1 year (2022)

Jack O’Connell 2 years (2023)

Enda Stevens 2 years (2023)

John Egan 3 years (2024)

George Baldock 3 years (2024)

Max Lowe 3 years (2024)

Jayden Bogle 3 years (2024)

R Norrington Davies 3 years (2024)





Youngsters involved with the 1st team last season (contracts unknown)



Kyron Gordon

Femi Seriki

Harry Boyes





Return to loan club:



Ethan Ampadu back to Chelsea
 

Deadbat

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Realised above has not changed colours as per key for contract situation. Apologies.
 

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